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Agencies Are Encouraged to Expedite Hiring

By Joe Davidson
Friday, March 20, 2009

With the Obama administration's budget plan and stimulus package likely to generate thousands of federal jobs, the Office of Personnel Management is trying to recharge a hiring process that has a long reputation for lethargy and frustration.

This week, acting OPM Director Kathie Ann Whipple issued a series of directives designed to encourage agencies to expedite hiring.

On Monday, she sent a memo to the heads of departments and agencies encouraging them to use rehiring procedures for federal retirees that would allow their reemployment without their pay being offset by the amount of their annuity, as is the general practice.

That practice has been a constant sore point for retirees who want to serve again, but without losing money as part of the deal.

Whipple told the top bosses that OPM strongly encourages the use of a particular form for "salary offset waiver authority." That form "will help your staff better focus on the kinds of information required in a dual compensation waiver request," she wrote.

Once the waiver request is submitted, it goes to OPM for approval. A June memo to human resources directors, from associate director Nancy H. Kichak, said "OPM may grant dual compensation (salary offset) waivers on a case-by-case basis to assist agencies facing an emergency, exceptional difficulty in recruiting or retaining qualified individuals, or other unusual circumstances. OPM may delegate waiver authority to agencies confronted with emergencies or other unusual circumstances."

The pitiful state of the economy and the administration's attempts to turn it around certainly should count as an unusual circumstance.

Whipple said OPM "recognizes that your department or agency may need to increase the number of experienced contract specialists, grants management specialists, human resources specialists, and project managers in order to meet mission requirements under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009."

On Tuesday, Whipple announced she has authorized agencies to fill positions using "excepted-service appointments." This authority allows agencies to use more flexible competition guidelines. The agencies still must follow merit system principles and allow for veterans' preference, but they can do so with their own evaluation standards, rather than those established for the government generally.

"Agencies may use this authority to fill, on a temporary basis for up to one year, positions at any grade level and in any geographic location" needed to carry out the provisions of the stimulus package, says the OPM statement.

On Wednesday, Whipple told the government's chief personnel officers that OPM has developed templates for job descriptions, streamlined job announcements and structured interviews, particularly in the areas of grants management and human resources. She also announced a forum for Uncle Sam's top human resources staffers next week "to provide immediate recruitment and hiring tools."

OPM said it will provide a "centralized recruiting and hiring strategy" at the forum that agencies can use to meet the government's urgent hiring needs.

More information is available at http://www.opm.gov. Merit system principles can be found here: http://www.opm.gov/ovrsight/mspidx.asp

Federal Service Impasses Panel

The Federal Service Impasses Panel is one of those small agencies that not even federal workers pay attention to -- until they need it. The Panel resolves disputes between federal agencies and federal employee unions.

But now if those union members go knocking on the Panel's door, they'll find no one is home, at least for the moment.

With a new president and a different party now in power, the Obama White House dismissed the seven members on the Panel earlier this month. No new appointees have been announced. Until the new folks are seated, at least some of the 16 cases before the Panel are stuck.

"The Panel's full-time staff has no authority to assert or decline jurisdiction over a dispute or to issue a decision on the merits of a dispute," said a statement from the Panel's parent agency, the Federal Labor Relations Authority. "By law, those actions must be taken by a quorum (a majority) of the Members of the Panel. The staff, however, continues to docket cases and investigate them."

Generally, almost half of the cases are resolved during the investigation, so all 16 may not need to wait for the new panel members.

Engineers' Union Grows

Federal workers at the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. have voted to join the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers. The 500 auditors, lawyers, paralegals and actuaries work to protect private sector pensions.

The 65,000-member union, which represents workers at Boeing, United Airlines and General Electric, has made a push for federal workers recently. Last year, analysts at the Government Accountability Office voted to join the union. It also represents NASA scientists, administrative law judges and Library of Congress researchers, among others.

Contact Joe Davidson at federaldiary@washpost.com

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