Agency chief human capital officers are charting a course to increase diversity within the federal workforce by leaning on programs and hiring authorities that would bring traditionally underemployed demographics — such as military spouses and previously incarcerated individuals — into the job application process.

At the same time, top administration officials are doubling down on efforts to expedite the response to and removal of federal employees that fail to meet job standards.

“Diversity and inclusion are topics that are critically important to the communities we serve, because having people that are truly representative of all of America is critically important. So bringing people in off the sidelines, who may not have had as much access to federal jobs, is a critically important part of what we want to do,” said Margaret Weichert, deputy director for management at the Office of Management and Budget, at a Nov. 18 Chief Human Capital Officers Council meeting.

The meeting highlighted two hiring efforts in particular that aim to bring people “off the sidelines” and into federal work: the Second Chance Act, which encourages individuals with prior incarceration or arrest records to apply for federal work, and a May 2018 executive order that encourages agency use of a hiring authority that allows agencies to noncompetitively hire spouses of active, 100 percent disabled or deceased service members.

According to Tracey Therit, CHCO at the Department of Veterans Affairs, approximately 30 percent of military spouses are unemployed, and 56 percent are underemployed — meaning that they work jobs below their education and experience level — due to the constant moves that are required of a military family.

A panel of military spouses that had been or were currently employed by the federal government told the CHCO’s assembled at the meeting that they frequently didn’t have access to the hiring authority designed for them within the federal government and would often have to take positions at a much lower General Schedule level than they had previously worked because it was the only spot open in the location their spouse was ordered to move.

“I can spot a military spouse resume a mile away, but that is because I know what one looks like,” said Cheryl Mason, chairman of the Board of Veterans’ Appeals and a military spouse herself.

She added that federal hiring managers need to be trained to not only detect military spouse resumes, but also to understand that a person moving from a GS-12 to a GS-7 in their job history is not a reflection of their performance, but rather a concession the applicant had to make in moving with their spouse.

While agencies are looking to drive more groups of people into federal service, administration officials also plan to push for regulations that would make it easier to kick people out if they don’t meet expectations.

Results from the recent Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey found that while employee engagement with their jobs was on a steady increase, many employees still felt that there was little being done about poor performers at their agencies, and most often such performers were allowed to stay in their positions and continue to do bad work.

The survey found that while only 34 percent of respondents agreed that actions were being taken to deal with poor performers, 28 percent were neutral on the topic and 38 percent disagreed.

“We’ve done about what we can do in terms of leading and managing, we actually have to address the root cause issues, and there are a number of proposals that we’ve included as part of the President’s Management Agenda, more to come, around really dealing with performance and agility in a meaningful way,” said Weichert.

Such proposals have received mixed response from employees themselves, as employee groups have worried that such reforms will make it easier for political leaders to get rid of employees who do work that goes against the current administration’s agenda.

National Treasury Employees Association National President Tony Reardon has in the past noted that the FEVS survey only reveals how people feel about the performance of other employees rather than those other employee’s actual performance metrics. So feds are more likely to think that their work is good and others aren’t keeping up.

In addition, Reardon argued that federal managers already have tools available to them to address underperforming employees, but they don’t know about them or how to use them properly.

Jessie Bur covers federal IT and management.

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