OMB Dictates Much-Needed Changes for Federal Hiring Process

Friday, June 19, 2009

THE FEDERAL government faces unprecedented challenges over the next few years. An aging workforce, more than one-third of which will be eligible to retire within five years, must tackle a bewildering array of issues. Given the federal government's need for 600,000 new employees over the course of the present administration alone, a sometimes yearlong hiring process that 45 percent of federal job applicants polled found difficult to navigate is more than an annoyance: It is a hazard. U.S. government workers stand on the front lines of many of today's key issues. It is crucial that they be up to the task.

Talking about this problem isn't new, but action is rare. So a June 11 memo from the Office of Management and Budget is noteworthy. In it, OMB Director Peter Orszag outlines four clear benchmarks for improving the federal hiring process, requiring agencies to meet them in the next six months and demonstrate progress in their annual budget proposals. Such prominent placement of this directive demonstrates a laudable administration commitment to the cause of hiring reform.

The memo includes several measures to make the hiring process more intuitive. It requires agencies to provide more feedback to applicants about their application status, to involve hiring managers in all stages of the process and to condense job announcements for their 10 most frequently open positions to fewer than five pages. That such seemingly basic practices require an OMB memo speaks volumes to how tortuous the federal hiring process has become. A fourth benchmark requires agencies to put together a road map of the hiring process -- from the identification of a vacancy to the hiring of personnel -- to help shed light on areas that need improvement. Previous mapping efforts have revealed particularly egregious situations, such as a 110-step hiring process in the Federal Student Aid agency that required the input of 45 people. Completed road maps will provide helpful guides for streamlining.

This application of OMB's power of the purse to the cause of federal hiring reform is a large step in the right direction. But more can be done. The road maps should be made public once they are complete, which will shed more light on the issue and lead to new potential sources of ideas. And once applicants are hired, more effort must be put into orienting them and increasing their workplace satisfaction, an issue that Mr. Orszag began to address in another point of the memo. Repairing the hiring process will serve no purpose if talented employees cannot be retained.

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