Facing pressure for more talent, agencies get new resources from OPM to surge federal hiring

In what seems like a never-ending effort to help agencies understand the federal hiring process, the Office of Personnel Management is out Tuesday with new resources designed to support a “talent surge” within the government.

“Significant work must be done across the federal government so that we have a workforce in place to meet the current moment,” OPM Director Kiran Ahuja wrote in a new memo to chief human capital officers. “We know that we must be strategic in building for the long-term, assessing the needs of the federal government for the future. This will require a commitment by agency leaders to develop short, medium and long-term strategic workforce plans. OPM is ready to work with our agency partners to develop these plans.”

The new resources are supposed to help agencies surge hiring and fill key positions needed to implement the new Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which President Joe Biden signed into law last month.

OPM sits on the new task force that the Biden administration created to help government implement the sweeping new infrastructure law.

But OPM has said many agencies already had plenty of hiring needs before the bipartisan infrastructure law became a new mission requirement. The agency has been speaking with the Transportation Department, Environmental Protection Agency and IRS about the various hiring efforts they have, an OPM official told Federal News Network.

To guide them, OPM released on Tuesday a list of the hiring authorities agencies have at their disposal to bring on talent. Agencies have dozens of ways — at least more than 100 — to hire new employees. But with so many options, many federal organizational often stick with the handful of authorities they already know.

“Given current and future demands, agencies will need to hire quickly, and at scale,” Ahuja said. “With this resource, OPM is working to make sure agencies have hiring best-practices easily accessible so that they can streamline their processes and match the strongest talent to their open roles.”

OPM’s new resource isn’t an exhaustive list of all of them, but it’s supposed to serve as a guide to help agencies pinpoint what federal hiring authorities might be useful during this moment.

The agency also released what it’s calling a “playbook for rebuilding the federal workforce.”

“Over the last few years, many federal agencies have lost highly skilled workers in a variety of mission critical areas, which has made it more difficult for the federal government to accomplish its mission,” the playbook reads. “These workers include, among others, scientists, climate professionals, mine inspectors, civil rights attorneys, housing professionals and personnel with acquisitions, human capital and cybersecurity expertise.”

The playbook urges agencies to develop workforce and succession plans and engage with colleges, universities and other institutions with ties to underrepresented communities to attract students, graduates and others as part of a comprehensive recruitment program.

And it recommends agencies engage federal hiring managers more fully in the recruitment process, a pain point that has long frustrated chief human capital officers and other HR experts. OPM urged federal hiring managers to work more closely with agency HR experts on identifying the requirements and skills needs for specific jobs, writing accurate position descriptions and announcements and finding the right skills-based assessments to screen and vet candidates.

Recruiting qualified talent doesn’t necessary have a defined end point, OPM said, and it advised agencies to consider using the tools on USAJobs.gov to find job seekers and invite them to apply for certain positions.

The playbook also encourages agencies to use some of federal hiring authorities OPM finalized earlier this year as tools to recruit new talent.

OPM, for example, signed off on a new policy allowing agencies to rehire former federal employees to positions at a higher grade level than when they left government. Another new policy allowed agencies to more easily recruit and hire student interns to time-limited or temporary positions, while a third regulation lets agencies noncompetitively appoint qualified and eligible college graduates to permanent career positions.

A fourth regulation, which OPM finalized in September, gives agencies the go-ahead to noncompetitively hire military spouses to certain positions.

In addition, OPM recommended agencies create and advertise their own “brands” that describe the work and the mission that new recruits might be participate in, and it urged leaders to promote the government’s pay and compensation package.

Agencies should also advertise the workplace flexibilities, including telework and remote work, that many organizations are adopting and prioritizing, OPM said.

The new OPM handbook is largely free from the technical jargon that HR experts might be used to from past federal hiring tools, and the playbook doesn’t announce new policy. But OPM said it designed the playbook for a broader audience, given an intense focus on the federal workforce and its challenges.

“There are a lot of people at the agencies who are very interested in the workforce right now,” the OPM official said. “It’s not just the HR teams or the CHCOS. [We’re seeing] a lot of interest from agency leadership and hiring managers.”

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