Lawmakers push skills-based hiring for federal contractors

The bipartisan ACCESS Act, if enacted, would remove college degree requirements from jobs in the federal contracting space.

As agencies have been gradually shifting toward skills-based hiring, a pair of lawmakers is seeking to expand that effort to another group: federal contractors.

Trying to take skills-based hiring a step further, Reps. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.) and Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.) introduced the bipartisan ACCESS Act Tuesday. If enacted, the legislation would remove college degree requirements from jobs in the federal contracting space.

The concept of prioritizing hands-on skills over educational background for job candidates is not new. Beginning in the Trump administration, and now continuing through the Biden administration, skills-based hiring efforts for the federal workforce have remained a priority for agencies as they recruit for federal jobs.

An executive order from the Trump administration initially urged agencies to focus on skills over education. After the Biden administration upheld the order, the Office of Personnel Management issued guidance to agencies on how to implement it.

Despite the continued emphasis, a spokesperson for Mace said the pace of skills-based hiring efforts remains unclear.

“This bill is meant to accelerate those efforts,” the spokesperson said in an email to Federal News Network. “The Biden administration maintained [the Trump administration’s] executive order, though it’s unclear how effectively they are implementing it.”

Currently, cybersecurity, human resources and acquisition remain the three major governmentwide, mission-critical skills gaps, OPM has said. Many experts, however, view skills-based hiring as one way to help address these gaps.

Now, the ACCESS Act seeks to stretch that concept to encompass personnel working on federal contracts, in addition to the federal workforce overall. Specifically, the legislation would bar contract solicitations from including minimum experience or educational requirements for the proposed contractor personnel.

Contracting officers, however, could still include degree requirements in some cases, but only if they include a written justification explaining why personnel with college degrees would be necessary for the specific solicitation.

Additionally, under the ACCESS Act, the Office of Management and Budget would be required to give agencies implementation guidance and help them establish the new requirements within 180 days of the bill’s enactment.

“We believe in empowering talent over credentials, and the ACCESS Act embodies this principle. By removing unnecessary degree barriers, we’re not just opening doors, but unlocking a wealth of untapped potential,” Mace said in a statement. “It’s about recognizing skills, not just diplomas, and ensuring that everyone, regardless of their educational background, has a fair shot at contributing to our nation’s workforce and innovation landscape.”

Skills-based hiring has become a priority in large part due to long-standing skills gaps in the federal workforce. Skills gaps appear when agencies don’t have the right skills or enough employees in the first place, on board.

In turn, skills gaps can create persistent challenges for agencies and their programs. In fact, more than half of the areas on the Government Accountability Office’s 2023 High-Risk List stem from issues related to mission-critical skills gaps. Strategic human capital management, or the ability for agencies to address mission-critical skills gaps, has remained on GAO’s list since 2001.

OPM has pointed to several promising practices from agencies as they work to increase their use of skills-based hiring.

For instance, the Interior Department reported that 74% of its job announcements use an additional assessment for candidates beyond the typical self-assessment questionnaire. Self-assessments often lead to inaccurate self-ratings, unwieldy applicant pools and large numbers of unqualified applicants, OPM said in its Workforce of the Future playbook.

The concept of skills-based recruitment is also included in the Chance to Compete Act, a bill which the House passed in a vote of 422 to 2 near the start of 2023. The Senate version of the bill was referred to the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, but so far has not had further action.

For the ACCESS Act, a spokesperson for Mace said for now, there is no leading partner for a Senate version of the legislation.

Copyright © 2024 Federal News Network. All rights reserved. This website is not intended for users located within the European Economic Area.

Related Stories

    (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)diplomacy, foreign service, State Department Foreign Service

    Foreign Service makes candidate assessment fully remote to broaden hiring pool

    Read more
    Amelia Brust/Federal News NetworkFederal Workforce

    OPM prioritizing pooled hiring, HR workforce in 2025 budget

    Read more