OPM hosts CHCO hiring reforms summit today

For the first time in years, people who want to work for the federal government will have an easier time applying for a job. OPM Director John Berry announced t...

By Max Cacas
Federal News Radio

Today, the Office of Personnel Management will play host to Chief Human Capital Officers from all federal agencies, as officials hold a summit meeting to discuss the new executive order signed by the President yesterday. That order mandates sweeping changes in the federal hiring practices, designed to make it easier for people to apply for jobs in the federal government

In a briefing at Office of Personnel Management headquarters in Washington, director John Berry told an audience of federal human capital managers, and OPM staff that the order will mandate major changes in the way that a new generation of civil servants will be hired.

President Obama has called on executive departments and agencies to overhaul the way they recruit and hire our civilian workforce. The message could not be more clear. We have a problem. The President has told us how he wants it fixed. And the cabinet is focused on fixing it.

Berry says while federal hiring reform might not be a “sexy topic”, its important because touches everything that the government does.

“Yet, for far too long,” he said, “our HR systems have been a hinderance. We have great workers in government now in spite of our hiring process, not because of it.”

The Office of Management and Budget’s Chief Performance Officer, Jeffrey Zients, says the reforms mandated in the executive order are long overdue.

“The current hiring system uses overly complex job descriptions, involves filling out lengthy forms and essays, and is a black hole, providing no feedback to applicants along the way. I know from my business experience that the best talent doesn’t wait around for jobs, they find work elsewhere.”

During the event, which included a signing ceremony at the mahogany desk used by President Theodore Roosevelt when he was head of the Civil Service Commission in the 1900s, Berry outlined the President’s executive order:

  • Dramatically reduce the time between when a job is announced and is filled.
  • Eliminate the “knowledge, Skills and Abilities” essays as an initial application requirement. Essays may still be used later in the process. Under the previous system, if an individual applied for five separate Federal jobs, he or she often needed to complete five separate sets of lengthy essays.
  • Use shorter, plain-language job announcements.
  • Accept resumes from applicants, instead of requiring them to submit complex applications through outdated systems.
  • Allow hiring managers to choose from among a group of best qualified candidates, rather than limiting their choice to just three names, through expanded use of “category ratings.”
  • Notify applicants in a timely manner (and at four points in the process) through USAJobs.gov – eliminating the “black hole” that applicants often feel they when they get no response to their application.
  • Submit a hiring and recruitment plan for top talent to OPM by the end of this year.
  • Have all Cabinet-level and Senior Administration Officials visiting universities or colleges on official business incorporate time to discuss career opportunities in the Federal service with students.

Additionally, the President directed OPM to:

  • Review the Federal Career Intern Program and, within 90 days, offer a recommendation to the President on its future and on providing effective pathways into the Federal service for college students and graduates.
  • Work with agencies to ensure that best practices are being developed and used throughout Government.

Shaun Donovan, the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, says his agency has been a guinea pig, of sorts, for the hiring changes in the executive order, taking aim at a hiring process with 40 steps, and taking an average of 139 days.

We’ve reduced the number of steps a hiring manager has had to take to 14 steps from the 40 that I talked about, and that includes beginning the hiring process, to finalizing the selections and onboarding an employee. We’ve provided workshops to managers to help them understand their role in the hiring process, and we’ve improved the accountability of everyone up and down the hiring chain.

Following the briefing, Federal News Radio asked OPM Director Berry if agencies will get help to implement the highly-touted resume screening software now commonplace in the private sector, software he says will help speed evaluation of job candidates.

“Many of the larger agencies,” he said, “have already told me that they will have the budgetary flexibility to jump in here and start to acquire that software, so DoD, Department of Homeland Security, Veterans Affairs, they have the resources necessary to begin to work with the private sector to begin to adap these to meet their needs. They’ve also made clear through the CHCO Council that they’re willing to share the fruits of their efforts with smaller agencies that might not be able to afford it. So we’re going to have some efficiency of scale there.”

Berry adds that OPM will also be working directly with vendors to help develop packages for small agencies so that, as he puts it, “they won’t be left high and dry.”

Berry says there will be help for smaller agencies who might not have the staffing or technical expertise to take advantage of things like private sector resume scanning software and technologies which he believes will help speed the hiring process at all federal agencies.

OPM has also launched a website to give guidance to federal managers on these changes.

Read more:

Federal News Radio: HReInvented Series Survey

Daily Debrief: More feds might be needed for hiring reforms

Daily Debrief: Mike Causey weighs in on federal hiring reform

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