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Senators Unveil Bill to Streamline Federal Hiring

By Ed O'Keefe

A Senate bill introduced today would reshape the federal government's hiring and recruitment process, forcing agencies to post job announcements in plain writing and fill vacancies in no more than 80 days. The Federal Hiring Process Improvement Act of 2009, introduced by Sens. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii) George Voinovich (R-Ohio), is the most recent legislative attempt to modernize the government's hiring and recruitment process.

“Too many federal agencies have built entry barriers for new workers and invented evaluation processes that discourage qualified candidates,” Akaka said in a statement. “Like the private sector, agencies need to take advantage of modern technology to find and hire the right candidates."

“Over and over, we hear of the problems in the federal hiring process. It takes too long; it is too burdensome, and so forth,” Voinovich said in the same statement. “The quality of technology has improved, but our processes have not."

Akaka is the chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee (HSGAC) subcommittee on government management, the federal workforce and District of Columbia. Voinovich is the ranking Republican. Committee staffers hear anecdotal complaints almost everyday about the federal hiring process. They cite a May 2008 washingtonpost.com live discussion with then-Federal Diary columnist Stephen Barr for some examples:

"The Federal hiring process is ridiculous. I've applied for GS-11 attorney position in 11 agencies and had one interview, three rejection letters, and seven nonresponses," said one chat participant.

"The biggest problem with federal hiring is still that it is too slow," said another. "Qualified young people (especially new/recent grads) want/need a job now, and will take the private industry job offered because it means an income coming in, rather that waiting months for the government to act."

The subcommittee held a hearing last May that heard similar complaints. Witnesses reported problems with recruitment strategies and job vacancy announcements. Perhaps most perilous, witnesses said agencies have not adapted their recruiting process to attract young people eager to work in public service. Stronger online application systems and easy-to-understand job descriptions would help, witnesses said.

The bill's chances of passage are unclear, and committee staffers say the Obama administration is unlikely to opine until its nominee to lead the Office of Personnel Management, John Berry, wins Senate confirmation. He seemed to favor modernizing the government's hiring process during his confirmation hearing last week. The HSGAC committee is expected to approve the nomination on Wednesday and refer it to the full Senate for a vote.

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By Ed O'Keefe  | March 30, 2009; 6:35 PM ET
Categories:  Congress, Workplace Issues  
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Comments

Also problematic is the sense that many job listings are not real openings--that they are "wired" for already identified in-house people. The Fed needs to find a way to ensure that external candidates have a real chance for jobs posted in its listings.

Posted by: ndgirl | March 30, 2009 7:23 PM | Report abuse

This would be great -- all too often contracting agencies have been used as a back door to hiring and if it's possible to bring someone in as a contractor within a very short time and with interim clearance, where applicable, then why can't it be done for civil service hires? Also, opportunities need to be provided for MERIT-BASED promotions and for fair, competitive processes and not just making it look fair. Lastly -- older civil servants need to be respected! Their are many talented and experienced older civil servants and they should feel their contributions are welcome, appreciated and not to be overlooked. We need good mentors in the government!

Posted by: KyzlOrda | March 30, 2009 9:02 PM | Report abuse

I think they should also streamline the Federal firing process. The iron-rice bowl of Federal employment means that many agencies have more than enough workers, but a shortage of people who are doing anything productive.

They may have started out in a useful capacity but become hand cuffed to the organization.

Posted by: RedBird27 | March 30, 2009 9:26 PM | Report abuse

I work in Federal HR. I agree that the process takes to long. What the general public isn't aware of is the extent to which Agencies must comply with regulations. Of significance are regulations associated with ensuring a Agency complies with Veterans' Preference laws.

From experience I can tell you that HR professionals and Federal managers would like to see the hiring process simplified. There are two many hiring authorities - the DOD even has Military SPOUSE Preference. Unless Congress passes legislationsthat results in simplying hiring authorities and examining process that result in Office of Personnel Management regulations there is little hope for substantial improvement.

HR professionals and managers are working with the tools provided. Are there additional efficiencies to improve the process. Yes, but to see substantial improvement the underlying structure needs to change.

Posted by: tjb4 | March 31, 2009 11:09 AM | Report abuse

As a Career Status Federal employee, I disagree with the often cited Veterans' Preference and Merit laws being the source of OPMs chronic inability to service applications. These laws in no way compel an agency to not respond to qualified applicants, to require fifteen-page applications, or to staff reviewers positions with generalists that have no concept of a positions (technical) requirements. OPM is a classic Old Guard agency in full "turf defense" mode.

Posted by: curtis789 | March 31, 2009 11:29 AM | Report abuse

Another major problem with the Federal hiring process is that there is no concept of a learning curve-- that accomplished people can learn new skills outside of their previous work experiences.

I have a masters degree and speak 5 languages-- clearly I'm good at learning things, but am never found "best qualified" for positions at even the GS-5 and 7 levels-- why is that?

I'm inclined to agree with ndgirl that the majority of posted positions aren't intended for those on the outside, though I blame the myopic HR people who just look for job titles and not potential.

Posted by: padnactap92 | March 31, 2009 12:52 PM | Report abuse

Part of the reason for the complexity of the system is the law, but this was intentional. The civil service system was designed to limit the possibility of abuse, so it is defensive rather than proactive. We need to keep in mind that the more flexibility we build in, the more opportunity there is for abuse. So we certainly don't want a system that lets people get hired just because someone thinks he or she might be able to learn the job. We need to have minimum experience and/or education requirements. And most HR people are merely servants of the system. As Deming stated, 90% of the problems are caused by the system, and only management can change the system. Within DoD, the HR systems have regionalized and centralized over the years to the point where the HR offices are too far away from both their customers and their suppliers. This would be a good place to start looking at making some changes.

Posted by: bigtom6156 | March 31, 2009 2:20 PM | Report abuse

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