Union criticizes OPM's flexible hiring practices

The National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU), responding to a recent report from Office of Personnel Management, has said the increased use of hiring flexibilities in government is damaging to merit-based hiring practices.

OPM’s study, issued May 20, found that most government managers who use hiring flexibilities say those techniques are more effective in producing quality newly hired employees than traditional ranking and selection procedures. OPM reported that the number of federal employees hired under eight special hiring authorities rose almost 50 percent — to 43,000 from 30,000 — between 2004 and 2007.

Under one authority, the Federal Career Intern Program (FCIP), new hires rose 147 percent, to 17,000 from 6,800. The total number of new merit-based hires increased by less than 2 percent, to 240,000 from 236,000, during the same period, NTEU pointed out May 27.

NTEU officials have been critical of the widespread use of FCIP and other hiring authorities, arguing that they narrow the government’s applicant pool and create a perception of unfair and arbitrary treatment.

“OPM’s report indicates that it is continuing to move away from a merit-based competitive service in favor of more relaxed standards that allow a great deal of discretion on the part of hiring managers,” NTEU President Colleen Kelley said. “This presents a danger that hiring decisions become based on factors other than a candidate’s qualifications, and that weakens the merit-based federal civil service.”

Kelley described FCIP as “the most egregious and fastest-growing example of how federal agencies are departing from statutorily mandated competitive examination and selection requirements.”

FCIP lets agencies appoint individuals to two-year internships that provide formal training and development assignments. Interns who complete the program are eligible to be noncompetitively converted to the competitive civil service.

In January 2007, NTEU filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia against OPM alleging that  FCIP rules undermine competitive hiring procedures in the government.

Kelley said FCIP has become “the tool of choice to circumvent competitive hiring practices” and that agencies such as Customs and Border Protection, the Internal Revenue Service and  Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. use the program to fill many entry-level openings.

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