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Obama orders government to change its hiring practices

By Joe Davidson
Post Editor

By The Post's Federal Diary columnist Joe Davidson:

President Obama signed a presidential memorandum Tuesday that ordered federal agencies “to overhaul the way they recruit and hire” civilians. “The complexity and inefficiency of today’s federal hiring process deters many highly qualified individuals from seeking and obtaining jobs in the federal government,” the president said.

In the memorandum, Obama instructed agency heads to take a series of actions by Nov. 1. They include an end to requiring applicants to respond to essay-style questions when submitting their initial applications for federal jobs. Instead of essays, where candidates write about their knowledge, skills and abilities, and long, hard-to-understand forms, applicants will be allowed to apply for jobs using cover letters and résumés or by completing “simple, plain language applications.”

"The best talent doesn’t wait around for 140 days — they find another job,” Jeffrey Zients, Obama’s chief performance officer, said Tuesday. “We need to streamline our hiring process to make it more competitive and candidate-friendly.”

The president wants the hiring time cut to 80 days — some agencies now take as long as 200 days from the time a vacancy is announced until a person is hired.

And during those 80 days, candidates are to be regularly informed about the status of their applications. Many applicants have complained of hearing nothing after submitting their documents under the current system.

Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry said elements of the plan “aren’t so much steps, as leaps forward.” He added that the new process will “honor core merit-system principles,” while saving taxpayer money.

Though the American Federation of Government Employees welcomed the president’s memorandum, the union was cautious about the section that called for agencies to use “category rating,” rather than the “rule of three.” Currently, managers hire from the top three candidates, and those not chosen must start from the beginning if they want to apply to a different agency. Under the category rating plan, an agency may hire from the list of all qualified candidates, not just the top three. Then another agency in the same department could hire from that same list.

“AFGE is reviewing the decision about moving to category rating instead of ‘rule of three,’.” the union said in a statement. “While OPM has assured us that category rating is a better tool for ensuring veterans preference than the rule of three, we will monitor this to ensure that there are no unintended consequences.”

Obama also ordered OPM to review the controversial Federal Career Intern Program and provide recommendations within 90 days concerning its future.

Federal employee unions hope it has no future, because they say it has been used to circumvent fair hiring procedures. Although it is called an “intern program,” it does not provide temporary employment for students, as its name implies.

Colleen M. Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, said, “Reforms to the competitive hiring process will accomplish little if agencies are permitted to continue to avoid competitive hiring by misusing excepted service hiring authority, particularly the Federal Career Intern Program (FCIP). NTEU wants the FCIP ended now, and is working to accomplish that goal.”

More information on the hiring reforms is available at

By Joe Davidson  | May 11, 2010; 3:21 PM ET
Categories:  Workplace Issues  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Chat with The Eye: Obama's federal hiring reforms; Elena Kagan's nomination
Next: House unites to call for federal workers' safety


I will believe it when I see it. I have applied to several federal jobs through the present USAJOBS site. Frankly, I am not sure how they find candidates through this system. The turnaround is very long. Messages, when sent, are sent by an email labeled 'mayday'. Odd choice. One example, I applied to the VA and many months later was informed that I was qualified, but did not have enough points to be considered. Why not let me know in the beginning? Other departments have also told me I was highly qualified but will not be called in. I hope this system can be improved, I still reserve hope.

Posted by: terpsicorp | May 11, 2010 5:15 PM | Report abuse

Shouldn't we make it more difficult for the nation's largest non-productive employer to add to the payroll, instead of easier?

Posted by: eldergent | May 11, 2010 5:26 PM | Report abuse

Good for Obama. I have filled out these forms and they are ridiculous, time-consuming and a waste of time for everyone involved including the people hiring.

Make it more simpler and effective.

Posted by: Bious | May 11, 2010 9:39 PM | Report abuse

A memo will do NOTHING or very little. You have so many rogue agencies, esp. many under the Pentagon that take OWNERSHIP of their organizations... no black President will EVER tell them what to do! It is THIER org and THEY decide how things work! Think I am joking? Please try to apply at a naval base outside the beltway and not have croynism, favortism, or the ever loving nepotism! You will get NOWHERE because you don't know their key words or phrases to put in your resume. And if you luck out and get on the CERT, you'll never get selected unless you have one of the many ism's above under your belt!

And the intern program needs to be revised, not ended! It need to have merit principles in it hiring process. But what about the THOUSANDS of rejects that are currently hired under this illegal process? We should just look the other way?

This government BETTER get its act together soon!

Posted by: darbyohara | May 12, 2010 6:32 AM | Report abuse

The process to get hired by any federal agency has gotten 100% out of hand. I work as a contractor for a federal agency have been looking for a permanent position as a federal government employee. In the year that I've been here, at least eight positions with the same exact job description I have now have opened. With encouragement from my supervisors in the agency, I've applied for all of them and made CERT for none of them. Something similar happened to a chemist I worked with recently. He was hired as a fellow and his agency wanted to keep him on board. They wrote a job description specific to his duties and qualifications and then went through the proper channels to bring him on board. The HR screeners sent in 3 people who weren't even chemists for a job written for a chemist! It took almost 2 years for this man to make the CERT for his own job. If nothing else that is evidence of a system gone completely wrong. Resumes and KSAs are read by a central office that knows nothing about the actual qualifications required to do an adequate job. Making the CERT is a game of keywords and phrases and has nothing to do with how qualified you actually are to do a job. Plenty of people outright lie or exaggerate and make CERT. It's about time the system changed to make it more similar to the world outside the federal government.

Posted by: djone1 | May 12, 2010 8:50 AM | Report abuse

Obama ought to allow those close to retirement to get early-outs first. Especially at DOD Agencies like NAVCEN who hasn't seen an early out in 8-years. This way he will in essence be getting rid of some of the dead wood and replacing it with a much younger workforce to meet the mission needs.

Posted by: reesemichael | May 12, 2010 9:45 AM | Report abuse

Exactly what this Democatic government needs...'no skills, knowledge or experience needed'.....just like our president!!! Send resume, cover letter or copy of green card....English not required..

We have to take back America for Americans!!! The Prez needs to take a drug test.

Posted by: cajunajm | May 12, 2010 12:08 PM | Report abuse

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