In April, Kay Coles James, the president's top adviser on the civil service, challenged federal agencies to hire senior executives in 30 working days. Yesterday, she announced she had beaten the deadline by hiring four executives in 24 days for the Office of Personnel Management, which she heads.

"I believe that when you set a standard for government, it is the standard you have to meet yourself," she told OPM employees at an agency-wide meeting.

When she joined the Bush administration, James said, she was told that it took five to eight months to fill a federal job. "I said that makes no sense to me. It should not work that way. It should not work that way in the senior level, and it shouldn't work that way in any level in the federal government."

James introduced the new OPM executives as part of her ongoing effort to reorganize the agency. OPM is under pressure to improve the government's hiring system and help agencies cope with a large wave of retirements over the next few years.

OPM also will play a role in workforce issues at the proposed Department of Homeland Security. The legislation creating the department calls for the new Cabinet secretary and the OPM director to work together on any overhaul of personnel and pay rules for homeland security workers.

The new executives at OPM will carry the title of associate director and work with James to finish the agency reorganization. The executives are:

* Ronald Sanders, who will head OPM's human resources program development division. He will be in charge of policy for civil service pay, benefits, staffing, federal labor relations and government-wide oversight.

Sanders has been the chief human resources officer at the Internal Revenue Service for the past four years and played a major role in IRS restructuring. He helped move IRS managers and executives to a pay-for-performance system and helped create a recruitment program aimed at attracting accountants and other professionals to IRS.

* Stephen C. Benowitz, to head OPM's human resources products and services division. Benowitz will be in charge of federal retirement and health insurance programs and other services.

He has been the director of strategic management planning at the National Institutes of Health. He has also served as NIH's director of human resources.

* Marta Brito Perez, to head OPM's agency merit system accountability and human resources programs division. She will focus on helping agencies follow White House directives and meet their workforce goals.

Perez has been at OPM for seven months as a project director for government-wide "human capital performance." She joined OPM after serving as human resources director for Montgomery County.

* Clarence Crawford, to serve as chief financial officer and oversee OPM's administrative, technology and finance operations.

Crawford previously served as chief financial officer at the Patent and Trademark Office. He began his federal career as a presidential management intern at the IRS.

In an interview, James said she understands that some federal jobs cannot be filled within 30 days, but stressed that job applicants should not be put through a lengthy process "that says we don't value you and that we take you for granted."

About 400 people have applied for executive jobs at OPM since James announced her openings. Although there were applicants from the private and nonprofit sectors, James's hires have extensive experience inside government.

"A lot of times people don't want to hear this, but it was, in fact, the case. These individuals who were selected are stars among their peers in the private sector," James said. "So it isn't that I lowered the bar to get experience and hit the ground running. The bar stayed high and they stood shoulder to shoulder and in fact above individuals even in the private sector that we looked at who applied for the jobs."

Mail Handlers Insurance Krista S. Lannert, a First Health vice president representing the Mail Handlers Benefit Plan, will take questions on the 2003 health insurance open season for federal employees and retirees at noon today on www.washingtonpost.com.

Stephen Barr's e-mail address is barrs@washpost.com.