The Obama administration’s point man on federal hiring reform said Wednesday that the government has made significant strides in strengthening its employment process in the year since President Obama issued a directive to fix it.

Speaking to conference sponsored by the Government Executive Media Group, John Berry cited several indications of a much improved hiring system.

“We are hiring now based on resumes and cover letters 91 percent of the time,” said Berry, director of the Office of Personnel Management. “That is up from 39 percent in 2009. It’s an amazing leap forward.

“We have gotten off of KSA island. Ninety-six percent of our job opportunity announcements no longer require KSA essays. That is also up from 39 percent in 2009.”

Requiring applicants to write essays to explain their knowledge, skills and abilities — KSA — at the initial stages of the process was a major impediment for many job seekers. In conversations among those familiar with the hiring process, “KSA” was often preceded by “dreaded.” Berry considers the move to a system based on cover letters and resumes, as is common in the private sector, to be a major accomplishment in the government’s hiring reform effort.

Another major problem with the application process was the applications themselves.

Now 66 percent of the applications and job descriptions are five pages or less. In 2009, just 24 percent were. Berry said one agency had a job description 75 pages long.

The applications now are not only shorter, but they also are easier to read. In 2009, 55 percent of the job opportunity announcements were written in plain language, according to Berry. Today 86 percent are.

“And our time to hire has gotten shorter, down about 15 percent to a government-wide average of 105 days,” he added.

Many of the changes Berry mentioned during his talk at the National Press Club were outlined in a presidential memorandum Obama issued on May 11, 2010.

“The complexity and inefficiency of today’s Federal hiring process deters many highly qualified individuals from seeking and obtaining jobs in the Federal Government,” Obama said in the memorandum.

“Americans must be able to apply for Federal jobs through a commonsense hiring process and agencies must be able to select high-quality candidates efficiently and quickly. Moreover, agency managers and supervisors must assume a leadership role in recruiting and selecting employees from all segments of our society. …The ability of agencies to perform their missions effectively and efficiently depends on a talented and engaged workforce, and we must reform our hiring system to further strengthen that workforce.”

Berry said the government has made “major accomplishments” toward meeting the president’s directive, but added, “we’re not done yet.” He acknowledged “there are still too many frustrated applicants and hiring managers out there.”