Quick hiring can happen now

Agency officials should learn how to use flexible hiring rules already in place before seeking new ones, experts told lawmakers this week.

An average of 102 workdays pass from the time a vacancy announcement closes until a tentative offer is extended to a candidate. The Office of Personnel Management recently issued a model for reducing this governmentwide average to 45 workdays.

A clear understanding of how to use existing hiring flexibilities is essential to ensuring that agencies hire the best and brightest, said Dan Blair, OPM's deputy director. He was speaking July 13 at a hearing of the House Government Reform Committee's Civil Service and Agency Organization Subcommittee.

Military officials are already taking advantage of Title XIII of the Homeland Security Act of 2002, said J. Christopher Mihm, managing director of strategic issues at the Government Accountability Office. That section of the law includes category ratings, which lets agency officials select job candidates ranked as "best qualified" rather than being limited to three candidates, and direct-hire authority, which enables officials to appoint people without going through exam requirements if a critical hiring need or lack of qualified candidates exists.

The Defense Department, which boasts an average hiring time of 35 workdays, has used direct-hire authority granted by OPM for Iraqi reconstruction efforts. "It allowed for the expedient appointment of individuals with fluency in Middle Eastern languages, including special excepted appointments for non-U.S. citizens," said David Chu, undersecretary of Defense for personnel and readiness.

A report issued by GAO in April cites a number of agency-reported barriers to using hiring flexibilities, including lack of guidance from OPM, lack of agency policies and procedures, lack of flexibility in OPM rules and regulations, and concern about possible inconsistencies in the implementation of the flexibilities within the department or agency.

Since the release of the report and the previous subcommittee hearing, which took place June 7, OPM officials have taken steps to improve hiring practices. For example, they hosted a training symposium for agency chief human capital officers and human resource professionals from 30 federal agencies on hiring flexibilities currently available, including sessions on hiring veterans, according to Blair. OPM officials plan to expand the program to continue to better educate agency officials on accelerating hiring practices while still maintaining a commitment to employing only the best.

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