OPM signs off on hiring flexibilities to help agencies recruit IT modernization experts

The Office of Personnel Management authorized a special Schedule A hiring authority to help agencies bring on specific professionals for their IT modernization ...

As the Modernizing Government Technology (MGT) Act heads to the president’s desk, agencies are getting a new authority to recruit top tech talent to help them tackle high-value IT projects.

The Office of Personnel Management is giving agencies Schedule A hiring authority to fill positions they need for work on IT modernization and “smarter IT delivery initiative” projects funded in the fiscal 2017 and 2018 budgets. Positions should focus on cloud architecture, solutions architecture and cloud migration from legacy systems.

Agencies can use the authority until Sept. 30, 2018.

“These technical positions entail in-depth knowledge and experience in creating modern digital services,” acting OPM Director Kathleen McGettigan wrote in Friday’s memo. “Because this work has not been performed in the federal government, current assessments may not be available to measure the required competencies. Therefore, it is not practical to examine for these positions. OPM expects the use of this authority to inform our development of future qualifications standards and assessments for use in competitive examining.”

Agencies can extend these positions for one year at a time, and they can ask OPM to extend appointments for longer than two years on a case-by-case basis.

The Schedule A authority lets agencies avoid the often lengthy federal competitive hiring process. Hiring managers typically aren’t required to publicly post Schedule A positions on USAJobs.gov or another website, but OPM is still encouraging them to do so anyway.

Agencies should use the Schedule A authority to “supplement” their normal hiring procedures, OPM said, and they have other, existing direct-hire authorities they can use to bring on new talent in other ways.

This all comes as agencies are preparing to get a little extra help in their efforts to modernize  outdated IT systems and move to the cloud.

Both the House and Senate passed the 2018 defense authorization bill last week, which included the MGT Act. It establishes working capital funds at each agency to give chief information officers a way to accumulate savings from moving off legacy IT systems. CIOs will have three years to use that money for future modernization projects.

Agencies already have direct-hire authority for IT managers, specifically GS-2210-09s through GS-2210-15s. They can also recruit new talent through the Presidential Innovation Fellows (PIF) Program or bring on IT professionals under an “expert or consultant appointment,” OPM said in its latest memo.

But hiring managers have been confused by too many options — as many as 105 different hiring authorities — in the past. And though agencies have recognized the need, the hiring of IT specialists and project managers has been relatively flat over the past five years.

The CIO Council earlier this month held two-day hiring fair to recruit, interview and hire new cybersecurity and IT professionals and reduce the time-to-hire by six-to-eight weeks.

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