Jobs 2001: A hiring odyssey

After the warm reception the information technology pay raise received last year, officials now say that image and hiring red tape — not pay — dissuades prospective federal employees from government service. Those beating the makeover drum include Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio), head of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee's Government Management, Restructuring and District of Columbia Oversight Subcommittee, and Sean O'Keefe, deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget.

The good news is that, just as the commercial economy is slowing down, the government is poised to revamp its image and overhaul its hiring practices.

Thanks to cumbersome federal regulations and tight budgets, it can take six to 12 months or longer to hire qualified people. Not only is the process frustrating for potential feds, it's nearly impossible for managers and human resources staffs to track all the paperwork as it winds its way through the application maze.

Rather than cry for more money — there's little to be had — or more people — who wouldn't be hired in time anyway — the Office of Personnel Management may make a few good computers and an extranet system part of its HR team.

The Library of Congress harnessed a customized portal to its Web site and managers gave Avue Technologies' Avue Digital Services -- a system that helps manage the application process from job description to screening prospective candidates -- a four-month test drive. If successful, similar combinations could reduce reams of paperwork down to a one-stop online application process.

Technological solutions will never replace a personal call from a prospective employer. But an automated program that lets applicants track their progress and sends managers status reports on job openings may be the next best thing.

It seems odd that IT may be the newest trend in human resources. At first blush, it's reminiscent of HAL 9000, the omniscient computer from Stanley Kubrick's 1968 film "2001: A Space Odyssey."

But if a techie solution can keep would-be federal employees from falling through the application cracks and speed the hiring process, we're all for it.

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