Federal agencies will be closed Friday as part of the national day of mourning for former president Ronald Reagan, the White House announced last night.

In an executive order, President Bush said federal government offices "shall be closed on June 11, 2004, as a mark of respect for Ronald Reagan."

Federal offices and programs essential for national defense, homeland security, foreign affairs, law enforcement and other essential business may be kept open, however, at the discretion of agency heads, the order said.

The White House released Bush's executive order shortly after 8 p.m. from Sea Island, Ga., where the leaders of the G-8 industrial nations are scheduled to begin meeting tomorrow. Administration officials said additional information would be sent to agencies today on the closing of the government for the Reagan funeral on Friday.

Current plans call for the 40th president to lie in state in the Capitol Rotunda beginning at 8:30 p.m. Wednesday. A national funeral service has been scheduled for 11:30 a.m. Friday at Washington National Cathedral.

Bush, in a proclamation yesterday, declared Friday as the official day to mourn Reagan. "I call on the American people to assemble on that day in their respective places of worship, there to pay homage to the memory of President Reagan," Bush said in his proclamation.

Still Hiring the Hard Way

Despite their complaints about cumbersome hiring rules, many federal agencies are not taking advantage of new options provided by Congress to assess job applicants and make swifter employment offers, a survey scheduled for release today shows.

The survey, part of a report by the General Accounting Office, found that many of the Bush administration's top personnel officials have moved slowly, or not at all, to put in place two hiring flexibilities approved by Congress in 2002.

"These findings are certainly disconcerting," Rep. Jo Ann S. Davis (R-Va.), chairman of the House civil service subcommittee, said in a statement. "Government agencies too often leave too many talented applicants waiting in limbo for too long."

Davis has scheduled a hearing today in Chicago to look into the federal hiring process, which job applicants contend is overly complex and time-consuming. For the hearing, she asked GAO for an update on efforts to improve hiring.

While the government appears to have no shortage of job applicants, a number of experts fear it is losing the "war for talent" with the private sector because many agencies take too long to make hiring decisions and have trouble matching up the best applicants with their jobs.

Rep. Danny K. Davis (Ill.), the ranking Democrat on the subcommittee, said the government is "at an important crossroads."

"We have an opportunity to improve the effectiveness of the federal hiring process and the diversity of the workforce, particularly at the senior levels of government," he said in a statement. "The GAO report tells us that we are not there yet. Let's not squander this rare opportunity."

The GAO report is based on a survey of 22 of 23 members of the Chief Human Capital Officers Council, an interagency group that includes Bush political appointees. (The CIA declined to participate because it operates outside of regular civil service rules.)

In the survey, council members were asked whether their agencies were using two new hiring methods, called "category rating" and "direct hire," approved by Congress as part of the law creating the Department of Homeland Security.

Category rating allows agencies to broaden the pool of applicants considered for a job by splitting them into broad categories. Managers can select from job candidates placed in the best-qualified category rather than being bound by the "rule of three," which dates back to the presidency of Ulysses S. Grant and has been portrayed by agencies as a barrier to hiring the best-qualified applicants.

But 13 of the 22 personnel officials told GAO that their agencies used category rating to "little or no extent," according to a draft of the GAO report.

The direct hire method permits agencies to quickly make job offers to fill a critical position or because of severe staffing shortages. Under the method, agencies can hire someone for the career civil service, bypassing regular hiring procedures.

But only five of the 22 personnel officials indicated that they were using direct hire to a "moderate" or "great extent," the GAO draft shows.

E-mail: barrs@washpost.com