New federal hiring policy, Kagan nomination, more -- Post Politics Hour

Ed O'Keefe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 11, 2010; 11:00 AM

Federal Eye blogger Ed O'Keefe took your questions about who is up and who is down in the world of politics and the latest news out of Washington.


Federal Hiring: It's great if the President could spped up the process but there is one other factor out there that wasn't mentioned that can be a major drag on the hiring process.

The state of the budget. It isn't unusual for temporary hiring freezes to stop hiring in its tracks. Almost always because there are continuing resolutions that last months and agencies sometimes react to them by freezing hiring.

Ed O'Keefe: A very good point. We've yet to see the language of Obama's memo, but I suspect there won't be anything in there about easing the temporary freezes during a budget impasse.


Ed O'Keefe: Good morning and welcome to the Tuesday edition of The Post Politics Hour, I'm your host, Ed O'Keefe.

We'll cover several topics today -- chief among them our

coverage of the Elena Kagan Supreme Court nomination

, and President Obama's

plans to reform the federal government's hiring system


To your questions!


Philadelphia: How soon would Obama's proposed changes to the Federal Hiring Process take effect?? I need a job a year and a half ago... Obama to speed federal hiring

Ed O'Keefe: Agencies must complete the transition in the next six months, but administration officials said several agencies are expected to make the switch within weeks. Best bet: Just keep track of the ones where you want to apply and see when they switch.


Burke, VA: Good morning, Ed.

Good news about efforts to significantly shorten the time it takes to hire fed. employees. Conversely, can the Obama admin. do the same to speed up the firing process for certain current fed. employees that aren't doing their jobs? Takes forever to fire dead wood.

Ed O'Keefe: Haha -- a good question. And no, federal firing isn't covered in this memo. Removing people is a much harder process, deep rooted in union agreements and civil service rules. It'll take a scandal of epic proportions before firing reforms are enacted.


In exile in southern, va: You mentioned that the gov't will eliminate KSA's in favor of a resume system. But the fed gov't already accepts resumes. It seems like all they are doing is eliminating KSA's. Also, I assume the burden is on the applicant to contact an agency to check their status? The agency won't mail or email a person telling them their status, right? Thank you.

Ed O'Keefe: Under the new rules agencies will be required to contact an applicant up to four times during the process:

1.) When their application is received.

2.) When the applicant is deemed qualified or not.

3.) When the applicant is referred for an interview or not.

4.) When the person is selected or not.

Current applicants complain that they submit applications and never hear back from agencies. Or if they do, the offers come after they're already accepted a private sector position.

Bottom line: This process is designed to do a few things:

1.) Speed up the process and thus make it more efficient.

2.) Improve the government's overall management and performance.

3.) Make the government more competitive with private sector employers who often recruit and hire in the span of 2 months, versus the 9+ months it can take agencies to make a decision.


Manassas, VA: I'm very happy to hear about these Federal hiring reforms. I hate KSAs. How soon until these changes take effect (and KSAs are forever banished)?

Ed O'Keefe: As I said in the previous answer, the changes must be made in the next six months.


Anonymous: The hiring process is only the first step. Most government agencies also conduct expensive and time consuming security background checks for positions requiring security clearances. In my experience, this part of the process delays hiring once a selection is made; many highly qualified applicants cannot wait the 3 to 6 months (or more) required for these background checks and accept other jobs. So, what is being done about this bottleneck? How can you bypass/expedite a system that is designed to screen out unsuitable applicants for high trust jobs?

Ed O'Keefe: I've just scanned the memo, which the White House just issued moments ago. At first glance, there's nothing about the tedious, time-consuming background check process, and you're right -- that's the next logical spot for reform. Stay tuned, officials promise there's more to come.


Minneapolis: Hi Ed -- in all the Tuesday morning quarterbacking, not much attention has been paid to Ms. Kagan's experience as a law clerk to Thurgood Marshall. She probably knows more about how the Supreme Court works, how cases are decided, and how opinions are written than most judges. It would also seem to me that the White House would want to play up her working with one of the great liberals on the Court to temper concerns about whether she's progressive enough, etc. What do you think?

Ed O'Keefe: I think you're right and I suspect opposition researchers and journalists are culling over the cases she would have touched while working for Justice Marshall to get a sense of her thinking.


Virginia: Can you identify any members of Congress who are actively supporting the revision of Federal hiring practices? This process has dragged on for far too long and is causing widespread hardship, yet in the metro DC area there seems to be a weariness about the issue. Who can voters in this area contact to get change moving faster in this front?

Ed O'Keefe: A GREAT question, and I'm glad you asked it. There are several folks involved in this process both through their committee work and geographic location:


Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.)

Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.)

Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.)

Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.)

Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii)

Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.)

Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.)

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine)

Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio)

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.)


Rep. Edolphus Towns (D-N.Y.)

Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.)

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Mass.)

Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah)

Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.)

Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.)

Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.)

Rep. James Moran (D-Va.)

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.)


Bethesda, MD: What in the -$&#-! does KSA stand for?

Ed O'Keefe: A @#$#ing good question!

KSA stands for Knowledge, Skills, Abilities.


Washington, DC: At the end of the day, the chances are almost certain that Kagan will be confirmed and the public's focus on other issues will shift to other topics. How much money gets spent on issues like this by advocacy groups?

Ed O'Keefe: I just checked with a colleague who tracks public interest groups. He said that good estimates don't really exist. Basically you can only get the groups to provide planned numbers and add them up; there's no easy central tabulation.

Remember however that groups like the Judicial Crisis Network exist primarily to deal with these debates -- so they'll draw much of their funding during this months-long process.


Boulder, Colo.: How does Elena Kagan help Team Obama, politically?

Geographically, she's from Manhattan's Upper Westside, which is pretty solidly blue.

In terms of energizing the base, liberals have yet another disillusionment since the bloggers have been pretty harsh on her (fairly or not).

Maybe I'm missing something?

Ed O'Keefe: Um, a few things.

a.) She's a woman. Obama has made no secret of his desire to put more women on the big bench.

b.) Her lack of practical judicial experience is a net positive for many people concerned that the high court is stacked with folks who don't have much real world experience. Some will justifiably argue that an Upper West Side native with a Harvard and University of Chicago pedigree doesn't account for much "real world" cred, but

as colleagues Anne E. Kornblut and Robert Barnes write today

, a Kagan confirmation, "would represent a shift toward a younger, changing court, one that values experiences outside the courtroom and emphasizes personal interactions as much as deep knowledge of the law."

And that seems to be what Obama wants.


Crystal City. VA: I'm all for streamlining the process and providing feedback to applicants, but I saw no mention in the President's proposal about retaining the Veteran's preference in the hiring process. How will Veterans, the disabled and other groups be accomodated in this new process?

Ed O'Keefe: Those preferences aren't going anywhere. These changes are designed to streamline the process for applicants and agencies. All other preferences and hiring rules and laws still apply.


Winchester, Ky.: While I totally would bet Rand Paul will win the Republican primary for U.S. Senate from Kentucky, I don't think he'll win come November. He's running against the Republican party, both in D.C. and within the state, but he needs that support to win the general election. Paul was the underdog, so the press coverage was more about him gaining in the polls, but not about his policies. When some of his views come to light, I don't think the favorable press coverage will continue.

While Kentucky is a red state in presidential elections, there is a strong state Democratic party and both potential Democrats, Lt. Gov. Dan Mongiardo and Atty. Gen. Jack Conway, are fairly popular, well funded and won statewide before.

Ed O'Keefe: Thanks for your analysis, Winchester. One person's studied opinion worth posting.


Pittsburgh: NPR reported this AM that Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) is leaning toward approving Elena Kagan's Supreme Court nomination. Any word on other Republicans so inclined? Collins's Maine colleague Olympia Snowe, perhaps? Will the Democratic Senators display party loyalty in all supporting Kagan's nomination? If so, then it's starting to look like, barring scandalous revelations, Kagan's filibuster-proof. Right?

Ed O'Keefe: Seven Republicans voted to confirm Kagan as solicitor general: Coburn, Collins, Gregg, Kyl, Lugar, Hatch, Snowe.

Kyl and Hatch at this point are a definite or likely "no." At this writing, it appears the others have yet to weigh in.

So it's unclear if she's filibuster-proof, but she'll win a few GOP votes and likely every Democratic vote, barring any big surprises.


Hyattsville, Md.: Why did the federal hiring process become so byzantine in the first place?

Ed O'Keefe: First off, I just posted Obama's full memo in my blog.

Critics will tell you a few things have contributed to the Byzantine nature:

1.) The KSAs create hours of extra work and you have to fill out new ones for every single job.

2.) Agencies don't have the manpower to deal with hundreds, potentially thousands of applications for one job.

3.) Federal managers have failed to make hiring and recruitment a big enough priority to ensure that the process is completed smoothly and quickly.

4.) The force of a presidential administration has never really been applied like it is in this case.


Moving to the metro area: Streamlining the hiring system can't come soon enough. After diligently writing hundreds of KSAs for dozens of positions over the past several months, and rarely hearing from the agencies again, I have become fed up and stopped applying for federal positions. But in the current economy the other problem is odds. What is the percentage of applicants who are offered professional positions with the feds? 1% ? From this job-seeker's perspective, they feel very long. And I worry that the agencies will have no idea how to sort through applicants under the new system.

Ed O'Keefe: Thanks "Moving" for your note.

I'm writing a story for tomorrow keying off of this announcement and am eagerly pursuing people who are now considering applying for a federal job because of the changes.

If you or someone you know is now interested -- or continues to struggle through the process -- please e-mail me directly at I look forward to hearing from you.

As for your question, "Moving," the government doesn't break down the hiring percentages, but certainly there are concerns about how agencies will handle the workload.


Orono, Maine: I never buy that solely because Elena Kagan is a women, she'll attract female voters.

That was the logic behind the McCain campaign's selection of Sarah Palin as a running mate and it backfired since she didn't attract female voters.

Plus how are Republicans doing with African-Americans thanks to Justice Clarence Thomas?

So I think there is potential for Elena Kagan and the female electorate, they've got to make a better case then they have.

Ed O'Keefe: OK, good point Orono. It may not be an overtly political gesture, but administration officials admit privately Obama wants to put more women on the Court. Whether that's for political reasons, or just his preference, well, you'd have to ask him.


Wokingham UK: Would most Americans regard the British way of selecting a government as amusingly quaint?

Ed O'Keefe: Certainly! I've thoroughly enjoyed watching the developments and am intrigued to think that the Lib Dems and Tories may team up as early as this afternoon.

By the way, a big shout out and "attaboy" to the folks at BBC News, who not only have produced fantastic television, but maintain an incredible elections Web site that has offered free, live, uninterrupted streaming video from London -- somehow bypassing international barriers that usually forbid Americans from enjoying the coverage.

You can see it yourself at:

Watching the coverage, I've decided that my new dream job is to one day anchor BBC Election Night coverage. Now all I need is a good British accent and David Dimbledy's stamina!


Byzantine process?: The layers of rules and requirements have been added over the years in order to ensure that all applicants - not just those with a friend on the inside - had a fair and open shot at any Federal job they were qualified for. In a few years, there will be reporting on hiring scandals where less qualified applicants with friends were hired because we relaxed the rules - you heard it here first!

Ed O'Keefe: Yes, perhaps Byzantine. I'll have an **Eye** on the process for sure.


Keystone Stater: Have you seen Rep. Joe Sestak's latest anti-Specter commercial, depicting Specter's longtime Republican affiliation? Shows old footage of Arlen with George W. Bush, then with Bush and conservative Republican then-Senator Rick Santorum, and finally Specter in 2008 in a most-unflattering photo of Sarah Palin -- real red-meat for Democratic base voters. I'm thinking that this scathing (yet factual) ad alone could put Sestak over the top against Specter. What do you think?

Ed O'Keefe: It could, but remember that Specter has just released a new ad that features... wait for it ... Obama.


Ed O'Keefe: Folks, that's for a jam-packed session full of good, informative questions and opinions. Don't forget to check out my blog, The Federal Eye and The Post's continuing coverage of the Elena Kagan Supreme Court nomination. And per our fantastic profile of Kagan, I'm glad to know Ms. Kagan and I share a mutual love for Dupont Circle's fine Chinese food establishment, City Lights of China!


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