A new congressionally mandated report recommends that the federal government significantly overhaul its hiring process, including simplifying the main jobs website and revising hiring authorities.
The final report, titled “Inspired to Serve" and released March 25 by the National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service — a commission mandated by the fiscal 2017 defense policy legislation — made 164 recommendations to improve participation in military, national and public service.
The federal government faces a crippling workforce shortage due to a variety of factors, including long wait times for job offers, security clearance delays and complex hiring authorities.
“Though applicants are excited by the prospect of contributing to a meaningful mission, such a long wait period results in many top candidates accepting other job offers and frustrates agencies attempting to attract the workforce they need to achieve their missions,” the commissioners wrote.
Among the top reforms for improving the federal hiring process was “reviewing and substantially revising USAJOBS," the main platform for finding federal job listings. The commission recommended the government also improve the platform’s interoperability with outside vendors and reform how the site handles hiring to attract more employees.
In comparison to job listing in the private sector, postings on USAJOBS are “unintelligible” to non-federal employees, the report said.
“We did an analysis of what an application looked like for a software engineer in the private sector at a major company versus USAJOBS," said Eddie Hartwig, deputy administrator of the U.S. Digital Service. "The former was a paragraph long, stated the mission, and had an easy apply button. The USAJOBS [posting] was seven pages long, and the description of what the job was, was three-quarters of the way down the page.”
The report also recommended transforming how agencies assess candidates’ qualifications, suggesting that the president direct agencies to stop using keyword-based resume reviews, as well as direct the head of the Office of Personnel and Management to require agencies to allow subject matter experts and hiring managers to be involved in candidate recruitment and assessment.
The report noted that the current review process is “fundamentally flawed," allowing poorly qualified candidates to advance through the hiring process. The current process uses software to automatically review keywords and score resumes, missing applicants with relevant skills because keywords don’t match synonymous words.
Agencies also rely on candidates’ self-assessment of their skills, which the report deemed “not a valid method” of evaluation.
“Many applicants mark ‘expert’ on every item, regardless of their actual qualifications, in order to advance in the assessment process; and many highly qualified applicants who attempt to rate themselves honestly are rejected,” the report read.
Revamping hiring authorities
To speed up the hiring process, the commission recommended agencies increase their use of noncompetitive hiring systems, which allow an agency to hire someone without going through a competitive process if they meet specific criteria.
The commission recommended that the director of OPM direct agencies to develop a standardized documentation for noncompetitive eligibility (NCE) and to allow candidates with NCE or veterans recruitment appointment (VRA) to identify preferred agencies and career fields.
The report “encourages Congress and the president to promote and facilitate the use of existing noncompetitive hiring authorities that are currently underutilized and that would enhance the Government’s ability to attract and retain talent."
Due to failures of the current system, NCE candidates’ applications can fail to reach the hiring manager until other candidates have been assessed, delaying the process. To remedy that issue, the report recommended forwarding the application directly to the hiring manager after an NCE or VRA candidate applies.
The report also recommended that the president sign an executive order directing agencies to eliminate any agency-specific policies that restrict noncompetitive hiring. It also recommended noncompetitive eligibility be extended to AmeriCorps alumni and returned Peace Corps volunteers.
The commission also suggested that Congress revise current law to allow agencies to have greater direct-hire authority. Currently, agencies can request direct-hire authority if there’s a shortage of “minimally qualified candidates. The recommended revision would allow agencies to request the authority if there’s as shortage of highly qualified candidates, a statutory carve-out that already exists for the Department of Veterans Affairs.
“For the government to remain a competitive employer, Congress, OPM, and individual agencies should change the recruitment, application, qualification, and assessment processes to more closely mirror broader workforce practices and to enable agencies to more accurately appraise candidates’ credentials,” the commissioners wrote.
Andrew Eversden covers all things defense technology for C4ISRNET. He previously reported on federal IT and cybersecurity for Federal Times and Fifth Domain, and worked as a congressional reporting fellow for the Texas Tribune. He was also a Washington intern for the Durango Herald. Andrew is a graduate of American University.