Weichert: Federal HR designed for stability not agility

DDM Margaret Weichert March 20 2018 

Margaret Weichert, shown here in March 2018.

The federal hiring process doesn't match the changing nature of agency work, according to Margaret Weichert, who until recently served as acting director of the Office of Personnel Management.

Weichert, who is deputy director of management at the Office of Management and Budget, told attendees at an Oct. 9 GovExec event that government needs to rethink its hiring model to draw potential applicants who may not fit the typical mold of a federal worker.

"Our human capital structure is not designed to be agile, it's designed to be stable," Weichert said.

She pointed to the hiring of federal firefighters as an example. Firefighters are hired on a seasonal basis, on the reasoning that fire season only occurs at a certain time per year. Forest fires are no longer a seasonal problem for the U.S. Forest Service because of climate change and other factors, but firefighters are still recruited as seasonal employees at hourly rates, making it hard to hire them when they're most needed.

As automation continues to have an impact in the workplace and renders more routine, task-based jobs obsolete, Weichert said more emphasis must be placed on jobs that require analytical thinking and hiring managers should stress candidates' aptitude and interest, rather than their technical expertise or previous experience. She cited a recent case in which the CIO Council's office opened a cyber "reskilling" program for existing government employees to train for new jobs.

"They explicitly selected 25 people who were not in the information technology community," Weichert said. "Part of what we wanted to prove was that we could look at aptitude, not necessarily previous experience. We were overwhelmed with the results. Our feds we selected did better than any other group that's taken this set of courses."

However, those same people are now having a hard time finding cybersecurity jobs that match the pay grade in their current roles.

"Why can't we move them? It's not stubbornness, it's the framework," she said. "It's the business model that says, 'well you're a GS-9, and the way I've coded this job, in this agency, it's not a GS-9.' We have to look at all of the complexities of how the law and the regulations treat that."

Weichert said moving away from regulations that dictate a person's career trajectory in an agency and emphasizing on-the-job training as part of the broader government hiring framework could help stave off situations like this.

About the Author

Lia Russell is a staff writer and associate editor at FCW covering the federal workforce. Before joining FCW, she worked as a freelance labor reporter in San Francisco for outlets such SF Weekly, The American Prospect and The Baffler. Russell graduated with a bachelor's degree from Bard College.

Contact Lia at and follow her on Twitter at @LiaOffLeash.


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