House lawmakers push hiring reforms for federal jobs

In line with the Biden administration’s priority to strengthen the federal workforce, the House Committee on Oversight and Reform passes legislation to revamp...

In an effort to reform the federal hiring process, the Chance to Compete Act gained more traction after the House Committee on Oversight and Reform passed the bill on Wednesday.

The bipartisan legislation takes steps to simplify and strengthen the way that agencies look for job applicants. Specifically, the bill would make use of subject-matter experts to assess candidates’ skills.

It would also emphasize qualitative skills related to job requirements, and reduce focus on the educational backgrounds of applicants. That adjustment would open the doors to more diverse hiring pools, the committee said.

Reforming the process to focus on practical skills is not a new concept. The U.S. Digital Service performed a pilot program that showed initial success in improving federal hiring with that method. Additionally, the private sector has moved in a quality-centered hiring direction and recruited higher quality candidates as a result, Reps. Jody Hice (R-Ga.) and Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) said in a statement about the House legislation.

Hice added that the Chance to Compete Act would remove unnecessary barriers to individuals looking to join government service.

“In order for the government to function at its highest level and to best serve taxpayers, we need to attract top-level talent who has sought opportunities elsewhere due to an outdated federal hiring process,” Hice said in a statement. “Any applicant who seeks a career in the federal workforce should have their skillset prioritized, not their college degree.”

The House is not the only place where lawmakers are discussing this type of reform. The Senate’s Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee passed its version of the bipartisan bill back in February.

Outside of Capitol Hill, the Biden administration announced similar goals in its fiscal 2023 budget request to improve the effectiveness of the federal hiring process. The request in part focuses on strengthening the federal workforce. The administration said that it’s ramping up efforts to ease the application navigation system for both applicants and managers.

These efforts “will make the process more effective by helping to ensure that the most qualified applicants are seen by managers, quality candidates are able to be hired, and those who are qualified but not ultimately selected can still receive offers from other Federal agencies,” the administration wrote.

Many outside organizations support the legislation. They argue that the bill would improve the matching of candidates to open roles, as well as streamline the process for getting high-quality applicants into those positions.

The National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association said in a letter to the Committee on Oversight and Reform on Tuesday that the bill would, among other benefits, enhance communication among agencies looking to hire for open jobs.

The Chance to Compete Act “would improve the ability of agencies to share assessments, allow subject matter experts to serve as interviewers, move assessments toward focusing on candidates’ ability to perform the job rather than self-ratings and college degrees, and improve transparency,” NARFE officials wrote.

Hiring quality candidates to federal positions is a longstanding problem for the government, the Senior Executives Association said in a letter to the committee on Wednesday.

“The federal government’s byzantine and outdated hiring policies and practices are desperately in need of modernization,” the letter stated.

In its own letter, the Professional Managers Association also offered support.

“This bill looks to best practices in the private sector for acquiring talent and assisting employers in building talent pipelines,” PMA wrote. “This legislation would make federal hiring more fair and more competitive, while also offering the promise to save the government millions of dollars by allowing agencies to share information about viable candidates for public service employment.”

Along with the Chance to Compete Act, the committee passed several other pieces of House legislation aiming to support federal workers. Notably, the Honoring Civil Servants Killed in the Line of Duty Act would support families of civil service employees who are either killed in the line of duty or die from a work-related injury.

That legislation, introduced by Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), sets the required standard death gratuity payment at $100,000 plus $8,800 for funeral expenses, with adjustments for inflation.

The committee also passed legislation to address the backlog of veterans’ records requests that come to the National Personnel Records Center, housed under the National Archives and Records Administration.

The Access for Veterans to Records Act would authorize $60 million for NARA to look into records requests at the NPRC office in St. Louis. The office contains more than 2 million boxes of military and medical records, and has a backlog of requests amounting to about 600,000.

Those two bills, along with the Chance to Compete Act, garnered bipartisan support from the committee. Supporters are now pushing to move the legislation to the full House for consideration.

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