Federal officials soon will get new, broad powers enabling them to hire outside normal merit system channels, and then detail individuals involved to perform or supervise work normally limited to career servants.
Agencies also will be able to bring in "exceptionally" qualified outsiders-from local governments, industry or universities-at pay and grade levels above what they normally would be entitled to, and at salaries as much as $5,000 a year more than they currently make.
These are two new authorities the Office of Personnel Management proposes to give individual federal agencies and departments as part of the civil service reform law.
The procedures, officials say, are designed to cut personnel red tape within the bureaucracy to allow top-quality outsiders, or political appointees already in government, to take special assignments without getting prior approval for each action from the OPM. Both changes represent a significant departure from previous federal job rules. And the freedom and leeway they allow open the door both to the possibility of better management and the potential for political abuse.
Agencies will be given blanket authority to hire individuals under Schedule A and B procedures-meaning no tests are required-and bring them into government or assign them for up to one year to tasks normally reserved for career federal workers. OPM plans to "negotiate" with agencies to give them the same authority for Schedule C employes who have political or policy-making jobs.
Schedule A is used primarily as a vehicle to hire attorneys in government. Schedule B is used to bring in individuals-such as summer employes-for whom regular civil service tests are impractical.
Federal officials who designed the system concede that the new latitude gives top managers, and political appointees, much more power. But they insist that programs in each agency will be monitored-via regular 12-month reports and spot inspections-to ensure that the new rules are not being used by political types to bring in friends, or hatchetmen, to do short-term jobs in government, or on government workers or programs.
Officials also point out that the authority to hire "highly qualified" individuals above regular pay rates is not new, but that the authority for agencies to do it on their own is new. It is intended, they say, to match pay rates in private industry. In some cases, however, it may be used to adequately compensate an outsider with top credentials who comes from a nonfederal job where pay is low.