Biden administration tops infrastructure hiring targets, eyes broader hiring reforms

Agencies have so far made hires for 6,099 BIL-related positions, exceeding the administration’s infrastructure hiring target of 5,800 by the end of fiscal 202...

After nearly two years, recruitment efforts are paying dividends for several agencies that have been all hands on deck for infrastructure law hiring.

Federal recruitment under the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, often referred to as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL), has surpassed the Biden administration’s infrastructure hiring target for fiscal 2023, the Office of Personnel Management said Monday.

The departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Energy, Homeland Security, Interior and Transportation and the Environmental Protection Agency, have so far hired candidates for a combined total of 6,099 positions to help implement the 2021 law.

The number exceeds the administration’s target of 5,800 total federal hires for BIL projects by the end of fiscal 2023, and comes out to roughly 1,000 new hires just since May.

“This is a big milestone,” OPM Director Kiran Ahuja said in a statement Monday. “I want to congratulate the dozens of OPM staff involved in this effort and all our agency partners for exceeding these goals.

Of the 6,099 hires, 90% have already started their jobs. OPM said it expects the rest to be onboarded this fiscal year.

The infrastructure hiring surge particularly targets recruitment in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) roles, such as resource management specialists, landscape experts, biologists, civil, mechanical, environmental and electrical engineers, and safety managers. Human resources (HR) specialists, attorneys and program managers are also priority positions for BIL implementation.

In the weeks following the infrastructure law’s passage in 2021, OPM published multiple resources to try to help agencies with surge hiring. For one, OPM released a “talent surge playbook,” intended to help agencies scale up infrastructure hiring. And OPM partnered with the recruiting agencies by creating and deploying a “tiger team” of experts.

OPM credited the high number of new federal recruits, in part, to the flexibilities agencies were able to use in the hiring process for BIL.

For one, OPM authorized the use of excepted service Schedule A appointments for BIL-related roles. Agencies hiring under BIL will be able to use that authority until Sept. 30, 2027.

Agencies also post BIL-specific positions on USA Jobs, which job applicants can then find by using an “Infrastructure Act” filter on USA Jobs.

Additionally, talent surge hiring dashboards let agencies keep track of job announcements, hiring targets and time-to-hire metrics, OPM said.

But perhaps most notably, OPM said agencies largely used shared certificates to their advantage. The practice of sharing certificates, first codified through the Competitive Service Act of 2015, streamlines the federal recruitment process by letting multiple agencies hire off the same list of qualified candidates when recruiting for the same position.

Although agencies’ use of shared certificates has been allowed by law since 2015, the implementation of shared certificates has only grown significantly in just the past couple of years. But with its scaled use for BIL hiring, OPM Director Kiran Ahuja has said it can be a good learning opportunity for other recruitment efforts across government. Shared certificates have recently been used, for instance, to hire HR specialists, program analysts and IT product managers across agencies.

To try to help bring these shared hiring efforts further beyond BIL-specific recruitment, OPM recently launched a new “talent pools” initiative on USA Jobs. OPM said the new function lets agencies quickly search for any currently available certificates of eligible candidates to use in their candidate selection.

In 2022, OPM also stood up a “hiring experience group” to try to further encourage agencies to adopt modern recruitment practices.

The Chief Human Capital Officers (CHCO) Council has pushed for an even greater use of these modern hiring practices, saying that they can help HR offices save time, while helping agencies hire more efficiently and bring in high-quality candidates.

But at the same time, CHCOs said implementation can be a challenge, considering limited resources and staffing in federal HR offices as they try to take on the added work of incorporating those flexibilities.

“Everyone likes to say that federal hiring is broken — it is not broken,” IRS Human Capital Officer Traci DiMartini said at an Oct. 5 federal hiring webinar produced by GovExec. “It’s just that we have not been able to keep pace because of limited resources … But we want to hear these ideas, and we want to put them into action to show what is possible when we’re going in with an open mindset, have supportive leadership and have resources. That’s when the magic happens.”

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