A makeover job for federal hiring

Those tedious Knowledge, Skills and Abilities (KSA) essay questions? Gone.

The rule-of-three hiring pool? Kicked to the curb.

The endless wait for a response to job applications, driving would-be federal employees to the point of despair?

One can only hope it suffers a similar fate.

President Barack Obama issued a memo May 11 that directs agencies to do away with those and other cumbersome hiring practices that have made federal employment so hard to come by, even at a time when agencies are under pressure to transition work from government contractors to in-house staff members.

“It's been a long time coming,” wrote Joe Davidson and Ed O'Keefe in the Washington Post. “The Government Accountability Office has been calling for changes since 2001, and a host of outside voices have criticized the byzantine nature of federal hiring, with its stacks of paperwork and endless rounds of interviews that can keep an applicant hanging for months.”

The KSAs perhaps typify the worst aspects of federal hiring. In many cases, all applicants for a job have been required to invest hours writing long, involved essays, even before they knew if they had any chance at the position. That put a practical limit on the number of applications any individual could hope to file.

But no more. Obama has directed agencies to begin accepting good old-fashioned résumés, which ought to provide them with enough information to identify the most competitive applicants.

“For all those interested in making a career in federal service, here’s some exciting news,” wrote the blogger at PSLawNet, which bills itself as the online resource for public-service legal careers, back in March when the rumors began circulating.

“Traditionally, one of the most confusing obstacles on the federal career path has been the highly bureaucratic application process,” the blogger wrote. “In particular, many applicants find the [KSAs] required for many federal positions to be loathsome.”

Wanna-be feds will also be glad to see the end of the rule of three, a practice in which a hiring manager ranks the top three candidates for a job and eliminates everyone else. Unfortunately, it took the federal government 130 years to figure out that it didn’t make sense to shrink the pool so early in the process.

The rule of three “may have worked for 19th-century clerical jobs when a test could clearly show who had the best skills, but it's impossible to apply to the complex jobs of today,” John Palguta, vice president of the Partnership for Public Service, told National Public Radio’s Jennifer Ludden.

But more than anything else, job applicants are hoping for a shorter, more transparent hiring process. They would like to be kept informed of their application's status and be told whether they have been hired or not before they forget they even applied.

Agencies will be required to touch base with applicants about the status of their application “at key stages of the application process,” according to the memo.

Altogether, the overhaul is expected to shorten the hiring process considerably — from four to six months or longer, in some cases, to about 80 days.

“For those of you who aspire to work for the federal government when you separate from the military, that’s great news,” wrote Dan Fazio at the G.I. Jobs Web site. “We’ve all heard the nightmare stories about the application process for a civilian job with the federal government. It’s a byzantine system established in the late 1800s, and it typically takes months to get a response, if applicants get one at all.”

About the Author

John Monroe is Senior Events Editor for the 1105 Public Sector Media Group, where he is responsible for overseeing the development of content for print and online content, as well as events. John has more than 20 years of experience covering the information technology field. Most recently he served as Editor-in-Chief of Federal Computer Week. Previously, he served as editor of three sister publications: civic.com, which covered the state and local government IT market, Government Health IT, and Defense Systems.

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