Sen. Tester reintroduces bill to let agencies share qualified job applicants

A bipartisan group of senators again is trying to make the federal hiring process a little easier.

Five members of the upper chamber Tuesday introduced the Competitive Service Act of 2015, which would let agencies create a “best qualified list” of candidates for similar jobs across the government.

The bill is meant to reduce duplication among agencies that currently can’t share information about prospective employees who have been deemed eligible for hire.

Sens. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) and Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) sponsored the bill. Employee organizations and good-government groups had pushed for it.

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“This legislation is a practical approach that will streamline and improve the hiring process for federal jobs so we can ensure that the most qualified, talented people are hired more quickly. It’s time that the federal government modernize its recruitment process to make it more effective for applicants and more efficient for the federal taxpayers,” said Cardin in a press release. “According to the Government Accountability Office, nearly one-third of federal workers will be eligible to retire by September 2017. We need to re-think how the federal government hires people if we want to avoid ‘mission critical skills gaps’ likely to be caused by the coming retirement wave.”

The six-page bill is straightforward. It would require the Office of Personnel Management to develop regulations for how the sharing of qualified applicants would work. The legislation also would require agencies to meet collective bargaining requirements and provide notice to potential internal candidates.

Otherwise, the hiring official could look for the three highest-rated candidates in the same occupational series and at similar grade levels.

“Our bill will streamline the hiring process — enabling agencies to share applicant pools so that qualified individuals will not have to undergo an already slow hiring process time and time again for similar positions across the federal government,” Portman said. “This is a common sense bill to help agencies get the right people in the right jobs in a more efficient manner.”

This is the second year in a row that Tester and other sponsors have introduced the bill. Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) last year introduced a companion bill in the House.

Neither version of the Competitive Service Act of 2014 got out of committee.

The Obama administration has been trying to improve the sharing of candidates since 2009, but has had limited success.

The good-government groups and employee organizations were pleased that Tester and fellow senators were trying to push this bill through again.

“This bipartisan legislation represents a common-sense way of treating our government as a single organization trying to achieve shared goals rather than a disconnected collection of many agencies,” said Max Stier, CEO of the Partnership for Public Service, in a statement. “Under existing law, if agencies have similar hiring needs, they cannot share assessments of applicants with one another. By allowing this information to be shared, the legislation would cut down on duplicative work and provide qualified candidates not chosen for a critical position at one agency to be expeditiously considered for a similar job at another agency.”

Stier said that he expected Connolly and Rep. Rob Wittman (R-Va.) to introduce a companion bill later this week.

Richard Thissen, the president of the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association; Patricia Niehaus, the national president of the Federal Managers Association; and Laurel McFarland, the executive director of the Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs, and Administration, support the Senate bill.

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