The expansive list of federal hiring authorities has seen mixed responses from agency human resource offices, with some saying that options help them to fill critical positions, while others say that the increasing number and complexity of hiring authorities does more damage than good.

But according to the Government Accountability Office, the Department of Defense has had success over the past five years in using such authorities to expand their substantial civilian acquisition workforce.

“The Department of Defense has used human capital flexibilities extensively to hire, recruit and retain its civilian acquisition workforce. Since 2014, usage rates for hiring flexibilities — alternatives to the traditional, competitive hiring process — have generally increased,” an Aug. 15 report said.

“DoD leadership has encouraged its hiring personnel to use these flexibilities, such as direct hire authorities, to reduce the length of the hiring process. From fiscal year 2014 to 2018, DoD used hiring flexibilities for 90 percent of its approximately 44,000 civilian acquisition workforce hiring actions.”

According to data collected by the DoD’s Human Capital Initiative, the civilian acquisition workforce increased by nearly 17 percent over that period, going from 134,808 employees in 2014 to 157,318 in 2018.

That number has continued to escalate to nearly 159,000 at the halfway point of 2019.

Increases in the acquisition workforce have occurred across a majority of acquisition areas, but the facilities engineering and information technology career fields have seen the greatest surge, with a 91 percent and 39 percent increase since 2014, respectively.

The expedited hiring authority was the most used in 2018, with 5,412 hiring actions made under the authority, but laboratory STEM bachelor’s degrees were also popular with 1,423 actions in the same time period.

“DoD also increased its use of recruitment and retention flexibilities for its civilian acquisition workforce, increasing the dollar amount authorized from $13.9 million in fiscal year 2014 to $33.7 million in fiscal year 2018,” the report said.

“This increase came as DoD leadership emphasized the benefits of these flexibilities and oversaw concerted efforts to increase their usage through the dissemination of information to human resource specialists.”

Those recruitment and retention flexibilities most often consisted of recruitment bonuses and student loan repayments.

“Officials from the commands and [Directors for Acquisition Career Management] generally agreed that recruitment and retention flexibilities were useful tools in helping them recruit and retain acquisition workforce talent. To receive these monetary incentives, employees must enter into written service agreements to remain with the department for a specific period,” the report said.

“DACM and defense agency officials, however, noted that retention bonuses were the least effective of the monetary recruitment and retention flexibilities. For example, Defense Contract Management Agency and Air Force officials told us they do not use retention bonuses as widely because they do not view them as effective tools in retaining talent. Defense Contract Management Agency officials explained that most of the personnel who leave their agency for other jobs go to other DoD organizations or federal agencies, and retention bonuses are generally used only for employees who are likely to leave federal service.”

GAO recommended that DoD’s HCI monitor the use of flexibilities “to help identify challenges, inconsistencies or needed improvements in using these tools,” and the agency agreed.

Jessie Bur covers federal IT and management.

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