Fair and open job postings?

Under the merit system principles that govern the recruitment of federal employees, recruitment should be fair and open. Public notice of available jobs is central to meeting this expectation, yet finding out about a job opening these days can still be quite a challenge.

When the Office of Personnel Management conducted a review in 1997, it found that almost one-third of the personnel actions requiring public notice were not posted as required. Although you may find that hard to believe, it's true. So OPM recently decided to take another look at the issue.

OPM said it was "pleased to note that positive significant change occurred" between its 1997 and 1999 study findings. "At the same time, the study findings indicate that agencies need to continue their improvement efforts."

Now as best I can tell, you don't have to be a rocket scientist to understand that job vacancies have to be posted so that qualified applicants can apply. Yet part of the problem seems to be that many agencies told OPM that they did not understand the requirements to announce job vacancies on USA Jobs.

It's unclear why OPM is pleased at all about the results from its most recent review. Instead of failing to properly post one-third of all vacancies in 1997, the failure rate is now one-fourth of all vacancies, OPM found. This is not a statistic that should make agencies or OPM proud. If jobs aren't being posted, agencies are missing out on a potentially large pool of qualified applicants. Whatever happened to full and open competition?

Back in 1997, the Defense Department was only posting 51 percent of its job vacancies, and now it's up to 69 percent. In my view, that's still awful. But OPM gives DOD credit, saying it "showed significant improvement, announcing vacancies on USA Jobs for 69 percent of their [fiscal ] 1999 hiring actions. This is an increase of 18 percentage points over its lower [fiscal] 1997 figure of 51 percent."

Talk about putting a positive spin on events. Makes you wonder if the person at OPM who wrote this report is letting DOD off too easily.

At least OPM recognizes that despite the small improvements, "some agency installations still do not fully understand their responsibilities and the requirements in providing public notice." OPM plans to continue to improve guidance, monitor compliance and emphasize the importance of public notice of job openings, officials said. Well, they should.

Because feds are the victims and the perpetrators of this gross disregard for rules and regulations, it's unclear whether there is a sense of urgency about this problem. Who cares whether feds are given a fair opportunity to apply for government jobs? OPM? Congress? The White House? Shouldn't we all?

Zall is a retired federal employee who since 1987 has written the Bureaucratus column for Federal Computer Week. He can be reached at miltzall@qis.net.

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