Angela Bailey, OPM deputy associate director for recruiting and hiring. (Staff file photo)
The government is getting ready to hire its first employees evaluated with tools that will eventually replace knowledge, skills and abilities (KSA) tests, the Office of Personnel Management said Tuesday.
Angela Bailey, deputy associate director for recruiting and hiring, said in an interview that OPM in January started testing online assessment tools for the government's 12 most frequently hired support jobs, such as accountants, budget analysts, secretaries, clerks, information technology workers, human resources officials, contracting officers and program analysts.
The program, called Assess, measures math skills, reading skills, logical reasoning skills or other general competencies of job seekers who apply through USAJobs.gov. The tests become progressively easier or harder as the candidates answer questions so quizzes can be tailored to their skill levels, and agencies will be able to evaluate their abilities more precisely.
The program will also have some video-based questions to evaluate how applicants would respond to different real-life scenarios.
The Agriculture Department's Farm Service Agency in Kansas City, the first agency to evaluate job seekers using Assess, used the tool to prepare a slate of 400 aspiring accountants and budget analysts. This week, Bailey said the Farm Service Agency will issue its certification lists of the best qualified candidates for hiring managers to choose from.
Bailey said the program will be a milestone in speeding up and reforming the government's notoriously sluggish hiring process. The Obama administration has made those reforms a priority for OPM. President Obama last year issued a memo ordering agencies to stop requiring job seekers to write lengthy KSA essays during their initial applications, a step that experts said discouraged many applicants. But experts also stressed that OPM must provide agencies new evaluation tools to replace KSAs.
"In addition to eliminating KSAs, and focusing on timeliness, we also wanted to make sure we spend as much time on the quality of applicants," Bailey said. "What's going on behind the scenes is a ton of work to roll out innovative products."
Bailey said that other agencies, such as the State and Health and Human Services departments and the Air Force, are also planning to use Assess soon. By next spring, Bailey hopes it will be available to all federal agencies.
Bailey said OPM eventually hopes to provide online assessments for more specialized positions such as nurses and engineers. But OPM hasn't started working on those specialized assessments yet, and they aren't likely to be ready for a few more years.