On average, federal agencies take 26 days longer to fill a vacant position than the 80-day model set by the Office of Personnel Management. And this extended time is preventing the government from hiring top-tier talent, according to senators and government officials who spoke before the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee March 1, 2018.

“Your best candidates can’t stand to wait when there’s better job offers out there,” said Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont.

According to Angela Bailey, chief human capital officer at the Department of Homeland Security, up to six weeks of hiring time could be cut out if agencies could have better access to on-the-spot hiring authority, particularly for job fairs that tackle the most high-need positions for agencies.

“We lose the vast majority of our people whenever they have to go to the e-QIP system and start filling out the background investigation paperwork. They give up. And so having somebody there at that time to say, ‘Not only do we like you, we’ve interviewed you, we’d like you — now we’re going to walk you down, we’re going to fingerprint you, we’re going to help you get into the background investigation system, we’re going to help you set up your medicals and your physicals and everything else that you need to do’ ... we cut out literally six weeks out of that process,” said Baliey.

Currently, agency hiring officials have to submit large amounts of paperwork proving a “critical need” for that position to be given access to direct hiring authority.

Mark Reinhold, associate director of employee services at OPM, suggested that technology could also help cut down the time to hire, as machines can digitally sort through resumes much faster than the manual sorting done by hiring staff. The machine also frees up those employees to focus more of their time on pursuing the highest-quality applications.

The witnesses also emphasized the need for HR officials to be engaged with the needs of the agency and with the managers of different teams to get a better grasp on what kinds of candidates are needed.

“One of the things that we found in a lot of our data is that supervisors and HR people don’t talk to each other, and that isn’t going to lead to a great hiring outcome,” said Reinhold.

According to Kevin Mahoney, chief human capital officer at the Department of Commerce, managers need to be trained to have a mindset that always looks for candidates with the highest levels of most-needed talent.

“In order to begin to solve this problem, we must recognize the role that managers play in the hiring process and identify the ways they can be empowered to cut the time to hire a new employee,” said Sen. James Lankfort, R-Okla.

However, according to Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., portions of the president’s fiscal 2019 budget that call for pay freezes, benefit reductions and greater firing authorities may dissuade younger employees from coming in to replace those that are retiring from federal service.

“I think we can’t talk about our lack of success recruiting millennials […] recruiting new employees into the federal system without looking at how we’re treating current employees,” said Heitkamp, adding that current employees can’t recommend that others join their agencies if they’re unhappy with the way Congress views their service.