Obama streamlines federal hiring process

Presidential memo does away with cumbersome requirements, but leaves some displeased

President Obama today issued a memo that overhauls the federal hiring process and banishes the "rule of three." The memo now requires agencies to let applicants use résumés and eliminates the essay questions that many agencies required all applicants to submit.

The Knowledge, Skills and Abilities (KSA) essay questions are often required of everyone applying for a federal government position, even though many of them could easily be eliminated based on education or work histories. Critics have long argued that the application process for federal jobs is too cumbersome, and the KSAs are one element contributing to that.

The memo orders agencies to "eliminate any requirement that applicants respond to essay-style questions when submitting their initial application materials for any federal job."

The rule of three previously allowed agency managers to narrow the applicant pool down to the the three highest-scoring candidates and select the eventual hiree from among those. The memo orders agencies to select from a larger pools of applicants.

The memo also instructs managers and supervisors to be more fully involved in the hiring process and holds them "accountable for recruiting and hiring highly qualified employees and supporting their successful transition into federal service."

Federal labor unions were supportive of the measures in the memo but criticized what they believe to be Obama's tepid approach to reforming the Federal Career Intern Program (FCIP), which they said they believe agencies are using to sidestep the hiring process.

"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," wrote Colleen Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, in the union's official response to the memo. "NTEU wants the FCIP ended now and is working to accomplish that goal. While the White House memorandum does not end the FCIP, I am pleased to see that it has directed the Office of Personnel Management to evaluate agency use of the FCIP and make recommendations about that program to the president within 90 days. "

"A fair review will show clearly that agencies are using the FCIP in ways not contemplated when the program was initiated," Kelley wrote. "Everyone agrees it is not an intern program under any commonly accepted definition. It has also proven to be particularly unfair to veterans. I am confident a review will result in a recommendation to end the program."

The American Federation of Government Employees issued an unsigned statement that expresses a similar sentiment.

"Numerous agencies have been using the FCIP almost exclusively for new hires, evading competitive procedures and veterans’ preference in the process," AFGE officials wrote. "While the Obama administration has committed to evaluate the use of the FCIP, there is already ample evidence that the FCIP is on the verge of replacing the competitive service."


About the Author

Technology journalist Michael Hardy is a former FCW editor.


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