Senate panel examines federal government’s hiring of recent graduates

Joe Davidson
Columnist June 21, 2011

If you want to know how efficiently Uncle Sam hires recent college grads, you need to listen to more than the Obama administration officials running that operation.

Here’s a snippet from a statement by Christine Griffin, deputy director of the Office of Personnel Management, to Tuesday’s Senate hearing on “Inspiring Students to Federal Service”:

Joe Davidson writes the Federal Diary, a column about the federal workplace that celebrated its 80th birthday in November 2012. View Archive

“More than two years ago, we embarked on a broad initiative to reform the Federal hiring process. Along the way, we have addressed systemic problems by overhauling the USAJOBS website to make it more efficient and user-friendly, reducing long job announcements, and shrinking the time it takes to fill mission-critical positions. . . . The intersection of these various reform initiatives is creating a new applicant-friendly environment that will allow us to compete with the private sector for a diverse and talented workforce, as well as honoring the service of our veterans.”

Now read the words of Laurel McFarland, executive director of the National Association of Schools of Public Affairs and Administration:

“There is a substantial amount of anecdotal evidence on how abysmal graduate students’ experience with USAJobs.gov has been, in terms of feedback and communication to applicants as well as overall hiring success. Even our top-ranked member schools report that few, if any, of their graduates have ever been contacted for an interview based on an application submitted through USAJobs.gov. The vast majority of graduate students hired in recent years have entered federal service through excepted hiring.”

The head of one of those top-ranked schools, David T. Ellwood, dean of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, said this in his submitted testimony:

“The bad news is that our system of federal government hiring will drive most of them [master’s and doctoral students] away and is unlikely to find and select the most able among them. Any sizable private business that hired employees in the way the federal government does would have gone out of business long ago.”

The statements were prepared for the federal workforce subcommittee, chaired by Daniel K. Akaka (D-Hawaii). Like the others, Akaka noted that the “administration has been making some good progress,” including a presidential memorandum last year on speeding the hiring process and a December executive order on revamping federal internship programs.

“But we still hear stories of talented individuals who seek employment with the Federal government,” Akaka said, “only to grow frustrated with the archaic hiring process and find work elsewhere.”

Unions on benefit cuts

A coalition of 16 labor organizations representing federal employees sent a letter to Vice President Biden last week, warning they “cannot be expected to stand idly by” in the face of proposals “to link an extension of the debt ceiling with draconian cuts, many again targeting public servants.”

Biden is leading talks with congressional leaders who are attempting to reach a deal to raise the debt ceiling.

Of particular concern to the unions are proposals to increase the pension contributions of federal workers. Aware of Republican insistence against any tax increase, the labor organizations have cast any employee pension-contribution hike as a tax increase for workers. Increased pension contributions would also be contrary to President Obama’s plan not to raise taxes on the non-rich, according to the unions.

“It represents a selective payroll tax increase that could exceed 5% of the entire income of federal workers, and would be a violation of the President’s campaign pledge not to raise any taxes on those earning less than $250,000,” the letter said. “Make no mistake about it, the proposed increase in federal employee payments is a payroll tax increase as surely as any increase to social security payments would be; the new higher deductions are automatically removed from the paycheck, they are not linked to any increase in pension benefits.”

The unions reminded Biden of the importance of the work federal employees do for him and the nation. The letter asked him not to “forsake America’s hard working public servants who:

l Connected the faint intelligence dots and found Osama Bin Laden;
l Welded the gaping hole in the U.S.S. Cole after it was hit by terrorists;
l Keep our air and water clean and safe;
l Protect you and are prepared everyday to take a bullet for you and other elected officials;
l Diverted the mighty Mississippi and saved Baton Rouge and New Orleans from certain flooding . . . .”

The letter said the unions support shared sacrifice but “will vigorously oppose any further selective benefit cuts or tax increases unfairly targeting federal workers. . . . We respectfully ask you and the President to defend them in their time of need.”

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