A Hiring Process in Need of Major Repair

By Joe Davidson
Thursday, March 5, 2009

The headline on Page 1 was scary: "Tens of Thousands Could Be Added to Federal Payroll."

My colleague Philip Rucker reported that independent estimates say 100,000 to 250,000 federal employees might be hired under President Obama's $3.6 trillion budget plan.

The thought of Uncle Sam going on a hiring binge is frightening -- but not because of a philosophy that says small government is better than big government.

It's scary because the hiring process is messed up.

It's so ineffective that some applicants get fed up and seek work elsewhere. It's so incompetent that those who do get hired often are not matched with the jobs that best fit their talents or the needs of agencies. It's so bad that a cottage industry has sprung up to help people navigate the hiring maze.

"It's an inefficient system by design," is the way Linda M. Springer describes it. She should know -- until last year she was director of the Office of Personnel Management. The process screens people at multiple levels, she explained, requiring applicants to jump through too many hoops.

It can be self-defeating.

Consider the case of Eva Freund, an electronic archives expert who wanted to work for the Government Accountability Office. She was a private contractor who felt she was more qualified than some of the federal employees she worked alongside. So, she thought, "I could just go to work for GAO doing exactly what I know how to do."

That was easier said than done.

"It was more than two years ago that I sent correspondence to the director of the Government Accountability Office and to the person in charge of the particular department for which I wanted to work. I have yet to receive a response to either letter," she wrote in a note to the Federal Diary that I printed Tuesday. "The inability of the agencies to respond in a timely fashion to applicants is another critical issue in the hiring of employees."

After reading her letter, GAO spokesman Charles Young said the agency plans to "apologize and let her know how she can still apply at GAO if she remains interested in the work we do."

Nice, but a tad late.

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