HR managers want fewer regs, more tech to make hires

(Image by Stephen VanHorn/Shutterstock)

As the average number of days agencies take to hire employees continues to creep upward, federal hiring managers voiced their support for fewer hiring rules and regulations, more hiring fair events and better uses of tech and data in the hiring process.

At a March 1 hearing held by the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee's Subcommittee on Regulatory Affairs and Federal Management, Subcommittee Chairman James Lankford (R-Okla.) called the government’s systemic struggles to fill vacant positions a “hiring crisis.” The average time to hire “has steadily risen to 106 days” in 2017, he said, even higher than the 100 days it took in 2016.

Compounding the challenges in staffing the government, Lankford noted, is “31 percent of our federal employees across the federal workforce are eligible to retire at this point.” 

“This is not sustainable,” he said. “The best and brightest candidates will not wait around for three and a half months, and our strategy cannot rely on hoping that they do.”

While some individual hiring fairs and similar events have been exceptions, the hiring managers testifying before the subcommittee generally agreed the federal hiring process is burdensome and overwrought with regulations.

Mark Reinhold, the associate director of employee services at the Office of Personnel Management, testified that although federal hiring has important considerations that private-sector hiring does not, “the laws and regulations governing hiring are complex and in need of reform.”

Given these regulations, hiring difficulties and employee engagement scores are lower than those of the private sector, and “we are not in a spot where we’re a preferred employer right now,” Ranking Member Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) said.

Angela Bailey, chief human capital officer at the Department of Homeland Security, added, “We lose the vast majority of the people whenever they have to go to the [Electronic Questionnaires for Investigations Processing] system, and they have to fill out the background system paperwork. They give up.”

Instead, Bailey said she would like to see more hiring done in the style of the hiring fairs, where agencies could bring together human resources, management and security folks to have face-to-face meetings and make more tentative job offers.

“I think you’d cut out at least six weeks” of bureaucratic back-and-forth, she said.

The Trump administration has, with the exception of announcements of increased staffing for Customs and Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, generally tilted its workforce plans towards shrinking government.

During the State of the Union, the president called for the governmentwide expansion of the expedited firing authority currently used at the Department of Veterans Affairs. However, federal employees, including VA employees, have said the law has had the opposite effect, and it doesn’t hold poor managers accountable enough.

Reinhold testified that “there are several” structural barriers to firing employees and holding managers accountable.

“We need to take a fresh look at the ways we do performance management and accountability,” he said. “Another piece of that, though, even without substantive reform is …  making sure that managers are held accountable for being managers and taking appropriate actions when there is misconduct or poor performance.”

While regulations and rules play a part in the employment problems, there are also steps individual agencies could take to whittle down their hiring timeframes.

To bring his agency’s time to hire from 105 days closer to OPM’s 80-day hiring model, Department of Commerce Chief Human Capital Officer Kevin Mahoney testified he’d like to see improvement on the ranking of applications, the management review, interviewing and eventual offering to applicants, as well as the security clearance process.

“Delays in any of these three steps can result in losing qualified candidates, especially those who are in mission-critical occupations which can directly impact mission accomplishment,” he said.

Reinhold pointed to OPM initiatives -- namely, USA Hire, HR training programs and new templates agencies can use to request approval for hiring authorities -- as efforts to improve the federal hiring process, but he added he’d most like to see investments in technology.

“I think there are huge gains to be made if we invest in tools and technology,” he said. “If we focus on applying good, robust assessments that hone in on the kinds of skills and competencies we’re looking for, facilitated and enabled through technology, it can help us cull through large numbers of applicants.”

About the Author

Chase Gunter is a former FCW staff writer.


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