Big Guns Take Aim at Federal Hiring Problem

Peter Orszag, Office of Management and Budget director, gives agencies six months to make progress in four areas.
Peter Orszag, Office of Management and Budget director, gives agencies six months to make progress in four areas. (By Joshua Roberts -- Bloomberg News)
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By Joe Davidson
Tuesday, June 16, 2009

For a long time there has been a lot of empty noise about the federal hiring process. Now the squeaky wheel is finally getting some high-level grease.

Peter Orszag, director of the Office of Management and Budget, has put agency and department heads on notice about the urgent need to fix federal hiring. He gave them six months to make progress in four areas that Orszag indicated are only the beginning.

This marks a stronger, more aggressive role by the Obama administration in federal personnel matters than is customary in a town where such issues often have been an afterthought, if not ignored entirely, by the White House.

The points about hiring and an additional item regarding employee satisfaction and wellness were given greater heft as two of four "deliverables" in Orszag's memo on budget planning and agency performance evaluations.

"It is, to my knowledge, the first time that OMB has stepped in on hiring and talent matters in this manner," said Max Stier, president and chief executive of the Partnership for Public Service, which works on federal employee issues.

Congress also has recognized that Uncle Sam can't write "Help Wanted" without getting lost in gobbledygook and a bureaucratic thicket. Some of the policies now being pushed by Orszag are included in the Federal Hiring Process Improvement Act introduced in March by Sens. Daniel K. Akaka (D-Hawaii) and George V. Voinovich (R-Ohio), the chairman and top Republican, respectively, of the subcommittee on oversight of government management, the federal workforce, and the District of Columbia and of the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.

In his Thursday directive, Orszag made clear the administration's displeasure with the response that agencies have shown to previous hiring improvement efforts by the Office of Personnel Management to fix a lethargic government practice that has frustrated many applicants, some of whom have simply given up and gone to work elsewhere.

He cited the reaction to the "End-to-End Hiring Roadmap" OPM developed last year. "To date, there has been sporadic effort, at best, applied to making this initial first step in our overall hiring reform a reality," Orszag's memo said.

He and OPM Director John Berry "expect significant progress in four areas of hiring -- timeliness, plain language and streamlined announcements, communication with applicants, and involvement of hiring managers," Orszag wrote.

The memo then went beyond those generalities and got specific.

Orszag told agency leaders that he expects the following tasks to be completed by Dec. 15:

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