The Office of Personnel Management is looking to give agencies more direct authority to not only determine if there is a severe shortage of IT personnel, but also to hire such workers without needing OPM to grant the authority.

In a proposed rule posted to the Federal Register Oct. 29, OPM indicated that it wished to take the direct hire authority that usually rests within its own jurisdiction and pass it on to the heads of agencies.

“OPM determines the existence of a severe shortage of candidates or a critical hiring need and may grant DHA to one or more agencies pursuant to this determination. Thus OPM is responsible for making both a determination that the DHA is warranted and for granting the actual DHA,” the proposed rule says.

“While [a May executive order on IT authority] authorizes OPM to submit a proposed regulation that would sever these actions for IT positions (in other words, permit the heads of agencies to make the determination, but preserve OPM’s responsibility for granting DHA based on an agency’s determination), OPM is choosing to delegate to agency heads its authority to actually issue the DHA.”

The proposed rule change, first reported by NextGov, is not unexpected, as OPM announced in early October that the agency would be working to roll out an IT and cybersecurity direct hire authority that would consist of multiple components.

Under the proposed DHA, federal agency heads would be required to fulfill four requirements under U.S. Code:

  1. Identify the position(s) that must be filled;
  2. Describe the event or circumstance that has created the need to fill the position(s);
  3. Specify the duration for which the critical need is expected to exist; and
  4. Include supporting evidence that demonstrates why the use of other hiring authorities is impracticable or ineffective.

Agencies would also still be limited in how such DHAs would be executed.

“An agency would not be able to assess applicants in order to make more meaningful or relative distinctions as to the quality of the applicant pool; i.e., an agency could not rate and rank applicants and select them based on a numerical rating or categorize and select them in terms of ‘good, better, best’ or similar quality designations,” the proposed rule says.

“Applicants who met the required proficiency level would be deemed to be equally qualified for these purposes. Each agency would then be expected to select qualified applicants in the order in which their applications were received and processed.”

After fulfilling the DHA requirements, agencies may hire new employees under the authority for at least one year and no more than four years for the initial appointment, according to the proposed rule. In total, that employee could spend no more than eight years at the agency.

OPM would still maintain oversight of the DHA process and would have the ability to request further documentation from an agency that chose to issue a DHA.

Agencies would also be required to fill out a justification template that included reasoning for issuing the DHA based on employment trends, workforce analysis, nationwide skills shortages, the availability of candidates, and past attempts to fill the positions by other means and why they were not successful.

Any wishing to submit a formal comment on the proposed rule are required to do so by Dec. 28, 2018.

Jessie Bur covers federal IT and management.

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