Senator: Rigid hiring process pushes millennials from federal work

Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.)

Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) said the "lengthy and cumbersome" federal hiring process keeps agencies from attracting talented young workers.

Agencies are missing out on hiring younger workers because of the government's rigidity, particularly its protracted hiring process, according to a lawmaker with oversight of the federal workforce.

During a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs' Regulatory Affairs and Federal Management Subcommittee hearing on Sept. 29, Chairman James Lankford (R-Okla.) stressed the importance of attracting millennials to the federal workforce and cited Government Accountability Office statistics that 600,000 federal employees will be eligible to retire next September.

"That's a staggering 31 percent of the workforce," Lankford said. "Unfortunately, those under 35 years of age make up only 16 percent of employees."

He expressed concern that agencies will be unable to attract top-notch talent due to the "lengthy and cumbersome" federal hiring process, which on average "takes 100 days to fill an open position."

He added that "we're not spending time training managers and trusting people in the local entities. That is an area in so many places where the private sector has such rapid speed.... We need to have oversight for managers...but so they're not locked in a box so much where they think, 'I know a good person, but I can't hire them.'"

However, the Department of Homeland Security's chief human capital officer, Angela Bailey, said her agency has taken advantage of hiring authorities to fill mission-critical positions.

DHS used direct hiring authorities to extend 326 tentative job offers to candidates at the department's Cyber and Tech Job Fair in July, Bailey said, adding that she would like to see the expansion of such authorities.

Mark Reinhold, the Office of Personnel Management's chief human capital officer, credited OPM's Hiring Excellence Campaign and the Agency Talent Portal for helping the government make progress in attracting talented millennials.

"People under 35 [years old] represented about 44 percent of new hires into the government in fiscal year 2015," which is a higher percentage than in the overall civilian labor force, Reinhold said.

He also pointed to OPM's outreach workshops at colleges nationwide and its Pathways Programs as ways the agency exposes students to federal work at a young age.

Robert Goldenkoff, GAO's director of strategic issues, applauded OPM's workforce efforts but said, "They need to do more." He suggested that lawmakers "hold OPM accountable for implementing GAO's recommendations."

Lankford expressed concern about whether millennials believe a government career is "rewarding or fulfilling." He received some pushback on that front, with members of the witness panel citing the work their agencies are doing to measure and improve employee satisfaction.

Reinhold pointed to OPM's administering of the annual Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey to help agencies identify key drivers of employee satisfaction and area where agencies need to improve.

Bailey said DHS, which has improved on its historically low employee satisfaction scores, now provides toolkits to leaders and has begun conducting "stay interviews," rather than exit interviews, to solicit feedback from current employees.

"Many of these things don't require money," she said. "A lot of these things just actually require paying attention to the small things."

About the Author

Chase Gunter is a staff writer covering civilian agencies, workforce issues, health IT, open data and innovation.

Prior to joining FCW, Gunter reported for the C-Ville Weekly in Charlottesville, Va., and served as a college sports beat writer for the South Boston (Va.) News and Record. He started at FCW as an editorial fellow before joining the team full-time as a reporter.

Gunter is a graduate of the University of Virginia, where his emphases were English, history and media studies.

Click here for previous articles by Gunter, or connect with him on Twitter: @WChaseGunter

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Reader comments


The last thing we need to do is streamline the process that screens out the bad apples before they get hired. Senator Lankford should focus on the 3000 or so Tanker Branch jobs that are about to be lost in his home district at the Tinker Depot. The replacement KC-46A will be entirely supported by the OEM Boeing because the Product Support Integrator has a bowl haircut just like the senator. Good luck explaining that to your constituent base in 5 years.

Mon, Oct 3, 2016

Millennials need to grow up, mature and persists like the rest of the adults accomplished before them. Yes they know social media, cell phones, computers better than the older generation unfortunately most have no social skills, the reality of a office environment, attention to detail and guess what the world does not revolve around them. I guess they have to learn social and work related responsibilities and wait their turn for promotions and other rewards

Sat, Oct 1, 2016

Dear Senator, please do your research. I love our Veterans, but Veterans Preference is a major reason millennials are not coming into the government. I have seen numerous qualified young people want to work for the federal government, but cannot make the BQL due to not being a veteran. This policy needs to be changed if you want more quality young people working in government. Veterans sometimes do not have the specialize skills needed for certain jobs, but get them anyway because only Vets made the BQL. This is not only a disservice to the tax payer, but also to the Vet who does not have the skills needed for that job, and is not successful at the job.

Fri, Sep 30, 2016 Smitty

Being a Gov supervisor, I find it frustrating that the system doesn't allow me to hire the best candidate when I am recruiting from the public. Almost every recruitment listing is filled with Vets and while I have nothing against them, most are barely qualified for the position but we have take take them unless we write up some lengthy explanation as to why we passed over them and being less qualified doesn't seem to be a good enough reason.

Fri, Sep 30, 2016 Peter

Well, it IS partially ReThuglicants like Lankford that are screwing things up via the constant posturing and unjustified vilification of federal workers that creates the situation in the first place. Aside from getting the hiring process streamlined (a goal I think most federal managers would agree with), maybe it would help if the elected sheeple would change their tune and recognize that the attitude is part of the cause of the braindrain.

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