OPM touts transformation of federal hiring

One year after the President called for improvements to how agencies hire workers, OPM Director Berry said KSAs, long job descriptions and the rule of three are...

By Jason Miller
Executive Editor
Federal News Radio

In the year since President Obama called for major reforms to the federal hiring process, agencies have transformed, the Office of Personnel Management says.

John Berry, OPM’s director, today said less than 4 percent of all agencies use knowledge, skills and abilities essays, the time it takes to hire a new employee on average is 105 days. Several other changes are making the government more like the private sector in how it recruits and hires new employees.

“We are hiring now based on resumes and cover letters 91 percent of the time. That is up from 39 percent in 2009. It’s an amazing leap forward,” Berry said during a panel discussion in Washington sponsored by Government Executive. “We have gotten off of KSA island. 96 percent of our job opportunity announcements no longer require KSA essays. That is also up from 39 percent in 2009. Hiring managers now have more choices. They get to see more resumes because 89 percent of our announcements have category ratings, up from 12 percent in 2009. No more rule of three.”

Berry said agencies through the collaborative efforts of the Chief Human Capital Officer’s Council, OPM and the Office of Management and Budget have made a lot of progress over the past year, but are far from done.

“We are going to keep pushing these indicators higher, the time to hire lower and applicant quality up,” he said. “Those are the three goals. And our goal is to do more.”

And more includes tools, such as the recently launched USARecruit and USAssess, and elevating the role of the hiring manager to be in charge of the process to find and employee new workers.

“What we are trying to do is to move the hiring decision away from HR and into the person who actually knows the job, knows the responsibility, knows the chemistry of the workplace and needs to make that hiring selection,” Berry said. “And they have to be involved and engaged.”

Robert Buggs, the Education Department’s chief human capital officer, said hiring managers are taking a much more active role in employment decisions than ever before.

“They want to be involved has been my experience,” he said. “I just had a meeting with one of our business units a couple of weeks ago. We spoke of the new collaborative. They were talking about the engagement from the start, in the middle and at the end to assess what we are doing and how we are doing it.”

Berry added hiring managers should write the position descriptions not the human resources department. He said HR employees should use tools to cull down the pool of applicants, but not make the decision for the hiring managers.

Buggs said previously the human resources employees didn’t include the hiring managers and when some insisted on being a part of the process, some HR workers would push back.

“For a long time, HR offices functioned or acted as policemen as opposed to consultants and invited the hiring manager into the process and into the conversation, and getting their thoughts in terms of what is needed the most,” Buggs said. “We are not the experts in human capital or HR, we’re providing the tools for the hiring managers to make the right selections.”

Education has reduced its time to hire to about 65 days on average. This is far below the government average of 105 days and below the federal goal of 80 days. Buggs said his agency did this by holding focus groups, updating the questions the agency asks job candidates and looking at different metrics to measure how they hire employees.

He added Education’s progress also can be tied to putting the new approach to hiring in manager’s performance plans and making it a part of the organizational assessment. Education uses its hiring process as a measure of its operational effectiveness.

Buggs said when the President issued the memo and OPM issued new guidance, there was a lot of concern from his staff and other agencies on how they would accomplish the reforms. But he said that soon that concern dissipated

“We’ve evolved from that very quickly as a matter of fact and that evolution has included not only folks in my profession, human capital, down to the analysts, who really had issues with how to proceed and how this was going to change the way they do business on a day-to-day basis, to our hiring managers themselves and their engagement,” he said. “They have been wanting to be engaged. If anything, the hiring reform was sort of the engine that began to drive this train to the point that we are normalizing the reform.”

Education also is tackling long-term planning for its workforce.

Buggs said the agency did an analysis with hiring managers about their future needs-those maybe 6-or-9 months away.

“When the hiring manager is ready to hire, the process isn’t starting from scratch,” he said.

Long-term workforce planning is one of the governmentwide HR issues the Government Accountability Office placed on its High-Risk list.

Berry wants the progress agencies have made with hiring reforms to address this challenge.

He said the CHCO Council approved a plan last week for each agency to identify 3-to-5 areas that are their highest skill gaps across.

Berry said the goal is to develop a plan to address those skill gaps and then use the hiring reform processes to fill those holes. If agencies do that, GAO indicated it would take workforce planning off the high risk list, he added.

Finally, Berry said new regulations for the student pathways program, which would replace the different intern programs that have come under fire in recent months, will come out soon. Berry didn’t say how soon, and last month he made a similar comment. He did offer a little more insight into what the regulations will say.

“The new regulations will eliminate issues we’ve heard about for years where internships don’t count toward an employee’s federal service,” he said.

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