Obama Calls for Federal Government Hiring Reform
By Elaine Wilson
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May 11, 2010 President Barack Obama signed a memorandum today calling for a sweeping overhaul of federal government recruitment and hiring practices and creating a “historic opportunity” for the Defense Department to revamp its outdated hiring system, a defense official said.
“To deliver the quality services and results the American people expect and deserve, the federal government must recruit and hire highly qualified employees, and public service should be a career of choice for the most talented Americans,” Obama said in the memo. “Yet the complexity and inefficiency of today's federal hiring process deters many highly qualified individuals from seeking and obtaining jobs in the federal government.”
The memorandum calls for, in part, the elimination of lengthy application processes, including essay-style questions for initial applicants; a reduction in the time it takes to hire mission-critical and commonly filled positions; and a greater involvement by managers in the hiring process.
“Americans must be able to apply for federal jobs through a common-sense hiring process, and agencies must be able to select high-quality candidates efficiently and quickly,” the president wrote. “The ability of agencies to perform their missions effectively and efficiently depends on a talented and engaged work force, and we must reform our hiring system to further strengthen that work force.”
Clifford L. Stanley, undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, represented the Defense Department at an Office of Personnel Management news conference today where the details for the new initiative were announced, including the widespread impact on the department.
The hiring reform is a “historic opportunity” for the department to eliminate an outdated, bureaucratic hiring system, said Marilee Fitzgerald, the Pentagon’s acting deputy undersecretary of defense for civilian personnel policy.
“Not since 1978, with the Civil Service Reform Act, has there been such an opportunity to acquire and develop our talent with alacrity and contemporary hiring and development practices,” Fitzgerald said in an American Forces Press Service interview.
“We have marvelous talent, and they can’t figure out how to get to us because we have all of these rules and a proliferation of hiring authorities,” she added. “All of these things distract our applicants from coming to us.”
The department is one of the largest civilian employers in the world, Fitzgerald said, hiring more than 100,000 employees every year. This reform is vital to meet the department’s goals of attracting and retaining the highest quality talent, she added.
The hiring reform will spur extensive changes throughout the Defense Department, she noted, with impacts to the hiring process at every step.
For job seekers, changes include:
-- An enhanced website at http://www.usajobs.com that will provide job seekers a single, easy-to-use entry point to federal job opportunities;
-- The use of a simple resume and cover letter to apply for a job instead of pages-long resumes that bog down selection processes;
-- Modern assessment tools with simple, quick questionnaires rather than assessments that require long essay responses;
-- Application status feedback at a minimum of four points: receipt of application, qualification determination, referral status and result;
-- Streamlining of job announcements from 10 to 12 pages down to about three pages. And rather than department jargon, the announcements will be written in simple, easy-to-understand terms; and
-- Enhancement of the Student Training and Academic Recruitment Program, known as STAR, in which college students are hired to assist the department with its entry-level recruitment needs, offering peer-to-peer, on-site information.
For managers, the reform will put the focus on partnering with human resource practitioners to develop staffing plans, with the overall aim of reducing hiring timelines and providing access to the highest-quality candidates.
Nothing is more disappointing, Fitzgerald noted, than waiting for a referral list and then discovering none of the applicants fits the bill. “Often,” she said, “the lack of qualified candidates is a function of not planning for the requirement on the front end.”
Human resources specialists now will work with managers two to three years out from a job opening to examine job requirements and create accurate job descriptions, Fitzgerald said. And when the opening is at hand, they will encourage managers to begin planning immediately to position themselves for making a quick hire. Managers can take care of administrative functions such as preparing interview questions and arranging hiring panels up front, she explained.
On the human resources side of the house, officials are looking at how they can reduce timelines on tasks such as candidate assessments and referral list development. Contemporary assessment tools, for instance, will help experts weed through applicants quicker and more effectively, Fitzgerald explained.
The department’s goal, she noted, is to reduce the time it takes to hire new talent from the current 155-day average down to 80 days. “And the shorter the better,” she added.
Fitzgerald projected the new assessments could be operational by as early as the end of the year.
In the meantime, the department has launched a new hiring reform website -- http://www.cpms.osd.mil/hiring_reform -- that includes easy-to-digest information customized for managers, applicants and human resources specialists.
The timing is right for these comprehensive changes, Fitzgerald noted.
“Certainly, the complexities of the department’s engagements at home and abroad demand a work force with the right mix of expertise at hand to properly address these emerging opportunities and to thwart potential threats that face us,” she said. “A work force with a broad portfolio of capabilities with maximum versatility is a mission imperative for the Department of Defense.”