The Office of Personnel Management released a revised draft of the General Schedule Operating Manual Nov. 16 to address the incorporation of assessments in the federal hiring process.

“Agencies must finalize the assessment methods and prompts before posting the announcement. In the ‘how will I be evaluated section’ of the announcement, the job posting must clearly spell out each assessment hurdle and whether or not they are pass/fail and/or also used for ranking and rating for categories. Applicants must know how they will be evaluated when they apply, and agencies must treat all applicants equally,” the draft operating manual states.

That draft not only solidifies requirements that applicants for federal jobs be granted the opportunity to prove their skills through assessment, but also turns a more critical eye on when and what kinds of education can satisfy certain job requirements alone.

“An agency may prescribe a minimum educational requirement for employment in the federal competitive service only when a minimum educational qualification is legally required to perform the duties of the position,” the draft operating manual states.

“Unless an agency is determining a candidate’s satisfaction of a legally required minimum educational requirement, an agency may consider education in determining a candidate’s satisfaction of some other minimum qualification only if the candidate’s education directly reflects the competencies necessary to satisfy that qualification and perform the duties of the position.”

That requirement — that applicants' education be reflective of the specific skills needed for the position in order to qualify them for the job — addresses concerns that personnel officials have raised about federal job applicants passing early stages of hiring evaluations because they have any degree, rather than a relevant one.

The changes also specify that degrees from “diploma mills” — non-accredited institutions that offer certification for a certain cost and very little academic work — would not be acceptable. Conversely, agencies have been encouraged to be considerate of “legacy degrees” in certain fields, where higher education is now required to work in the field but previously was not, leaving some older professionals without the “relevant” degree but with standing experience in the field.

“On rare occasions there may be applicants who may not meet exactly the educational requirements for a particular series, but who, in fact, may be demonstrably well qualified to perform the work in that series because of exceptional experience or a combination of education and experience,” the guidance states.

“In such instances, a more comprehensive evaluation must be made of the applicant’s entire background, with full consideration given to both education and experience. To be considered qualified, the applicant’s work experience must reflect significant full performance-level accomplishment directly applicable to the position to be filled and be verified by a review of at least two persons who have professional standing in the field.”

The revisions also place an increased emphasis on evaluating competencies, which are “a measurable pattern of knowledge, skills, abilities, behaviors and other characteristics that an individual need to perform work roles or occupational functions successfully. Competencies specify the ‘how’ of performing job tasks, or what the person needs to do the job successfully.”

The kinds of competencies that agencies are expected to look for are divided into two categories: general and technical. General competencies are those skills that are needed across many types of positions, such as problem solving or leadership, whereas technical competencies refer to skills that are specific to a particular job or set of jobs, such as coding or operating certain machinery.

Agencies have until Nov. 30 to submit comments to OPM on the draft changes.

Jessie Bur covered the federal workforce and the changes most likely to impact government employees for Federal Times.

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