Data scientist hiring campaign maxes out applications in less than 2 days

A coalition of agencies led by the Office of Personnel Management is putting out a governmentwide call to hire data scientists at a faster pace than what would ...

A coalition of agencies led by the Office of Personnel Management is putting out a governmentwide call to hire data scientists.

OPM, working with the Federal Chief Data Officers Council, and U.S. Digital Service, posted a joint hiring announcement Monday giving applicants with in-demand skills consideration for more than 50 data science positions through a single application.

Ten agencies put out the call to hire program analysts at the GS-13 and 14 levels with at least a year’s worth of prior experience.

OPM announced the job application would close at midnight the day it received 500 applications. An OPM spokesperson said it received more than that many applications in less than 48 hours.

The hiring process is designed to onboard employees with in-demand skills at a faster pace than what would normally happen under the federal hiring system. The U.S. Digital Service piloted the same process last spring to hire customer experience experts.

Lisa Frid, the Census Bureau’s workforce transformation program manager, said applicants will go through a Subject Matter Expert Qualification Assessment that gives data scientists a seat at the table when vetting candidates.

“Instead of asking applicants to assess themselves, SMEs partner with HR to assess if applicants are qualified before they’re deemed eligible,” Frid said in an interview.

The Subject Matter Expert Qualification Assessment is a clear departure from the skills assessment that occurs for most federal hiring. New data from the General Services Administration found 90% of competitive job posts open to the public relied solely on the applicant’s answers to a self-assessment questionnaire to determine if their experience made them eligible for the position.

The governmentwide hiring initiative comes a year after the Chief Data Officers Council held its first meeting, a significant milestone considering Congress passed the Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act only a year prior, and required agencies to name a CDO.

Program analysts hired through this process would oversee agency goals under the Evidence Act, automate data collection and present findings from their data analysis to agency leadership.

Applicants hired at the GS-14 level would work more independently or as the senior analyst on a data science team, and brief senior policymakers.

Applicants will complete a written assessment in late January, and data science experts will interview candidates in early February. Agency hiring personnel will offer a second interview to candidates later that month and expect to finalize hires by early March.

The application asks candidates to detail their proficiency in a handful of programming languages and includes three multiple-choice questions asking candidates how they’d respond to everyday challenges, like pulling data sets from PDFs with inconsistent formatting or designing a predictive model based on agency data.

Daniel Morgan, the CDO at the Transportation Department, said the agency has open data science positions in Washington, D.C. and Cambridge, Massachusetts, and in mission areas that include safety, infrastructure and innovation.

“We’re excited about the opportunity to show the public service angle of data science work,” Morgan told Federal News Network.

The joint hiring initiative would complement a data science reskilling effort that began at the Census Bureau in 2019, but has since been expanded by the Office of Management and Budget to develop a governmentwide data reskilling program.

The bureau’s first cohort of 50 participants completed the program in June 2020, and the bureau will launch a second cohort later this month, expanding the coursework to include two tracks – one for data science generalists and the other for machine learning experts.

The Census Bureau is also one of 40 agencies collaborating with the Chief Information Officers Council and OPM to create a data science occupational series. Frid said agencies currently shoehorn applicants into job descriptions and job titles that only partially cover the work they do.

The new job series, she added, would not only categorize data scientists in a more consistent way across government, but would also help agencies attract top-tier talent for these positions.

“Right now, it’s very tough to compete with the private sector, but this series will help federal agencies clearly indicate where there are data science roles, offer people a career path within this new discipline, and provide the compensation and benefits necessary to attract and retain that talent,” Frid said. “We’re trying to respond to the changing landscape externally, in that data science is a sought-out career and people call themselves a data scientist. They don’t call themselves a survey statistician or they don’t call themselves a data analyst, and so we want to get up with the times.”

Meanwhile, the General Services Administration, in support of these data reskilling efforts, released a Curated Data Skills Catalog highlighting a range of data-skills training available to the federal workforce.

GSA published the skills catalog as part of the Federal Data Strategy’s 2020 action plan, which laid out a 10-year journey of common steps agencies should follow to improve their data analytics capabilities.

Morgan said he and his CDO Council colleagues are looking to keep building off the success of the Federal Data Strategy with the upcoming release of a 2021 action plan.

“The Federal CDO Council has proven to be an incredible place to build a community of learning and sharing across agencies about how to implement the elements of the action plan and to celebrate successes along the way,” he said.

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