Workforce

Is OPM's big hiring decision all it's cracked up to be?

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Agency executives likely breathed a sigh of relief reading the May 1 memo from Office of Personnel Management Director Katherine Archuleta.

Finally, agencies could make excepted-service appointments for much-needed digital service experts.

But what will really be the impact of the move?

OPM says the decision applies to 782 federal IT positions, all on a strictly temporary basis (appointments can run in one-year increments until Sept. 30, 2017) at the General Schedule 11 to 15 levels.

Veterans’ preference is mandatory, and public notice is “strongly encouraged.”

OPM has singled out 25 agencies that could use the hiring authority to build digital service teams, along with dozens of agency transactional services that could benefit.

Some agency executives are emphasizing the positive.

“The unique skills required around digital services would be extremely hard for us to get to through the normal hiring process,” said Department of Transportation CIO Richard McKinney. “OPM wisely recognized this and I know all of the CIOs like myself who are moving toward building this type of internal capability appreciate having these new options.”

But off the record, some federal executives say OPM’s decision is long overdue – yet another example of OPM trying to play catch-up when it comes to tech hiring.

They wondered why the “Schedule A” hiring authority, which so greatly helped the General Service Administration’s 18F and the Office of Management and Budget’s U.S. Digital Service grow their teams, wasn’t extended to other agencies sooner.

For independent agencies like the Federal Communications Commission, the new hiring authority simply doesn’t apply, said FCC CIO David Bray.

DOT’s McKinney said new hires enabled by the decision will help agencies build digital services “muscle,” and he sidestepped the suggestion that the move was too long in coming.

“Long overdue? I'd say this is a very timely decision and recognizes the type of change the federal government needs to make in order to build our capacity for a new generation of applications and services,” McKinney said.

Kimberly Holden, OPM’s deputy associate director of recruitment and hiring, was similarly staid.

“The timing is appropriate,” is all she would say when asked whether the authority should have come sooner.

“There are many challenges to attracting top [digital services] talent because it’s an emerging field,” Holden noted, touting the flexibility that excepted-service hiring affords.

But government work’s primary appeal, she said, isn’t money. It’s mission.

“Something we have that Google or Facebook don’t have is that mission,” Holden said, claiming “dedication to public service” and a desire to “make a difference” rather than pay or a benefits package attract key talent.

Were agency executives chomping at the bit for Schedule A authority?

“I wouldn’t say there was a lot of pressure [from agency executives],” Holden says.

She also said she was “unaware” of any federal employee union objections to OPM’s decision.

The American Federation of Government Employees and the National Treasury Employees Union did not respond to requests for comment for this story, while a spokesman for the National Federation of Federal Employees said that because of the union’s legislative conference this week, the NFFE was “not able to provide the due diligence to analyze excepted service appointments and their impact to the greater federal workforce.”

About the Author

Zach Noble is a staff writer covering digital citizen services, workforce issues and a range of civilian federal agencies.

Before joining FCW in 2015, Noble served as assistant editor at the viral news site TheBlaze, where he wrote a mix of business, political and breaking news stories and managed weekend news coverage. He has also written for online and print publications including The Washington Free Beacon, The Santa Barbara News-Press, The Federalist and Washington Technology.

Noble is a graduate of Saint Vincent College, where he studied English, economics and mathematics.

Click here for previous articles by Noble, or connect with him on Twitter: @thezachnoble.


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