For applicants, federal hiring reform a relief

By Ed O'Keefe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 12, 2010; B03

Brad Kennedy wants to work for the federal government so badly that he's been flying back and forth between his home in Madison, Wis., and Washington since January. He's spent almost $2,000 on airfare and a total of eight weeks away from his family, networking with anyone who might help him join the federal payroll.

The 40-year-old litigator and father of two was laid off in the fall and almost immediately set his sights on a federal job. He has applied for positions in the Commerce and State departments. His wife's salary as a teacher and his unemployment benefits help fund the trips to Washington, and he stays at his sister's house in Reston.

"I've wanted for a long time to serve my country through government service," Kennedy said. But after 40 applications for federal positions, 15 replies and so long away from his family, he's frustrated. But he said the new rule allowing résumés and cover letters instead of requiring essay-style questions announced Tuesday by President Obama is encouraging, and he plans to apply again. The changes must be implemented by Nov. 1.

"I would hope that it would make my application materials perhaps more competitive than they would have been with the KSAs," Kennedy said, referring to the lengthy essays currently required for most applications. "But I also think it's going to explode the already high volume for each of these positions."

An onslaught of highly qualified applicants is exactly what the Obama administration wants. In calling for the federal hiring reforms, Obama said that the government "must recruit and hire highly qualified employees" and that public service "should be a career of choice for the most talented Americans."

But the current hiring process "is too cumbersome, too bureaucratic," said Jeffrey Zients, the administration's chief performance officer.

"A hiring process that takes 140 days or more . . . is indicative of that problem," he added.

Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry said he is sympathetic to the frustration of applicants tied up in the federal hiring system, but noted that the Obama administration developed and announced important changes in a relatively short period of time -- 13 months.

"In Washington speed, I'm feeling pretty good," Berry said Monday.

But Brandi Perry is sick of waiting. The 33-year-old medical receptionist from Columbia Heights has spent 18 months applying unsuccessfully for 25 federal jobs. She particularly wants a public affairs or administrative position.

"It's just incredibly frustrating when you know you're qualified for a position and you could make all the difference," Perry said.

She is drawn to the federal sector by its stability, professional growth opportunities and generous benefits, including more paid holidays than her current job provides. With or without the changes, she'll keep applying.

"I'll try again tonight, and whenever they roll out the new system, I'll try again," she said.

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