The House passed a bill late Tuesday bolstering the use of skills-based recruiting in an effort to tune up federal hiring practices.

The Chance to Compete Act, introduced by Republican Rep. Virginia Foxx of North Carolina, passed 422-2.

The bipartisan legislation attempts to make hiring more targeted through subject-matter expert interviews and skills tests. Such tools can reduce reliance on paper credentials and whittle down applicant pools for hiring managers, thereby saving time and ensuring candidates are truly a good match for the work.

“The private sector already uses such structured interviews, knowledge tests, and writing samples for the hiring process,” Oversight Chairman James Comer (R-Ky.) said on the floor. “It is time the federal government does too.”

The measure builds on guidance from the Trump administration, which prodded agencies to consider meeting employment needs through merit-based methods that reflect the modern job candidate who can self-educate and advance without a traditional college degree. Between 2009 and 2020, total undergraduate enrollment decreased by 9%, and while matriculation is expected to increase into 2030, it will only be by about 8%, the National Center for Education Statistics predicts.

The Biden administration has taken up similar policy through its own guidance. The Office of Personnel Management fleshed out the executive order issued by former President Donald Trump to help agencies designate specific occupations for transition to skills-based approaches and highlight steps agencies have already been taking.

In 2020, an OPM memo said “at present, most agencies use federal resumes and an occupational questionnaire to screen applicants for minimum qualifications,” but acknowledged a “deeper dive” is needed.

The bill would give topic experts a role in brainstorming skills tests and determining passing scores. The legislation would also streamline agency sharing of assessments through an online platform where offices can customize the tests.

“The effective use of candidate assessments can improve time-to-fill metrics, employee performance, and retention,” wrote Emily Dickens, chief of staff at the Society for Human Resource Management, in a letter to lawmakers supporting the bill.

OPM would also maintain a public database showing what type of skills assessment were being used, whether the candidate was hired and under what the authority.

The U.S. Digital Services office and OPM piloted a program in 2019 where subject-matter-experts developed qualifications for a position alongside federal HR specialists.

“One of the highlights of the process is that private sector applicants don’t need to know the typical tricks of federal employment, including much longer federal style resumes and the problem of over inflation on self-assessment questionnaires,” the outcome report found. “In this process, SMEs are doing the evaluation, not the applicants.”

The pilot saw fewer applicants qualified for a job, but more were ultimately selected and in less time compared to previous hiring events. Participants also identified a need for specific review tools to reduce the risk of human error.

“These reforms should save American taxpayers money by greater positioning agencies to attract, recruit and retain better talent,” said Marcus Hill, chair of the Board of Directors for the Senior Executives Association, which represents the interests of over 8,000 career federal executives.

Molly Weisner is a staff reporter for Federal Times where she covers labor, policy and contracting pertaining to the government workforce. She made previous stops at USA Today and McClatchy as a digital producer, and worked at The New York Times as a copy editor. Molly majored in journalism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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