New direct hire authority aims to assist agencies with AI talent surge

The direct hire authority from OPM, effective immediately, lets agencies use a more streamlined process to appoint individuals to four different AI-related posi...

As part of a big push from the Biden administration to conduct a governmentwide AI hiring surge, the Office of Personnel Management is trying to make it easier for agencies to recruit experts in the field.

OPM has approved direct hire authority for a handful of governmentwide occupations — IT specialist, computer scientist, computer engineer, and management and program analyst — according to a memo the agency published Friday.

“This authorization will assist agency efforts to increase AI capabilities in the federal government,” OPM said in the memo.

The direct hire authority, effective immediately, lets agencies use a more streamlined process to appoint individuals to the four different AI-related positions in certain grade levels on the General Schedule:

Source: Office of Personnel Management memo on governmentwide hiring authorities for advancing federal government use of AI

The authority is applicable to incoming federal employees nationwide and covers appointments to competitive service, career, career-conditional, term and temporary positions.

OPM’s direct hire authorization comes a few months after a broad executive order on AI, which President Joe Biden signed in October. The executive order directed OPM to lead efforts for staffing up on AI experts at agencies governmentwide.

Although positions such as IT specialist can be quite broad in scope, OPM said in the memo that agencies can only make direct hire appointments for individuals who will be performing work directly associated with implementing the AI executive order.

In general, direct hire authority aims to speed up hiring for agencies by eliminating certain candidate ranking and rating procedures. Typically, agencies are given direct hire authority to fill vacancies “when a critical hiring need or severe shortage of candidates exists,” OPM said on its website.

In September 2023, OPM also gave agencies direct hire authority to bring in more senior-level employees in data science and operations research — two other areas that may additionally support AI-related work. Additionally, certain Schedule A appointments to support the executive order’s implementation are also now authorized, OPM said in the Dec. 29 memo.

Still, the task to massively staff up the government’s AI workforce will not be an easy one. Agencies will have to aggressively recruit data and computer scientists to bring AI into their mission, former Deputy Federal Chief Information Officer Maria Roat told Federal News Network in December.

And although there may be promising applications of AI for agencies’ work, currently, many uses of AI in government are still in the planning phase, rather than in full-fledged production, the Government Accountability Office recently reported.

There is more work ahead for OPM, too, to fulfill the requirements of the AI executive order. OPM is also tasked with giving agencies guidance on how they can use existing pay flexibilities or incentive pay programs to attract AI experts into government service. And OPM will additionally lead a governmentwide pooled hiring action focused on bringing AI experts into agencies.

Those interested in applying for different fellowship programs or joining the government’s AI workforce can find openings in a job portal at

The direct hire authority for the four AI-related occupations will last through either Dec. 31, 2028, or until OPM terminates the authority — whichever comes first.

In the meantime, OPM said it plans to continue looking at other occupations involving AI-related work and help agencies staff up in the field where necessary.

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