Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) speaks at the 2016 Concordia Summit in New York last month. (Photo by Riccardo Savi/Getty Images for Concordia Summit)

Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) read a list of government projects that once promised to bring new life to the federal hiring process, only to then show it in steadily declining health.

“In 2008, OPM (Office of Personnel Management) and the Chief Human Capital Officers Council created the End-to-End Hiring Roadmap Initiative to try to improve the federal hiring process for applicants,” he said at a Senate hearing Thursday.

“In 2010, the White House launched the president’s Hiring Reform Initiative to help with recruiting and finding the most qualified employees for the government.

“In 2010, OPM launched an initiative to help veterans find federal jobs.

“In 2011, OPM established a veteran’s program — employment program, an Office of Diversity and Inclusion to further the efforts to hire veterans.

“Also in 2011, OPM started an initiative to help students find federal jobs.

“In 2015, OPM created the Recruitment Engagement Diversity and Inclusion Strategy to improve the hiring process by guiding HR employees and managers.

“In 2016, OPM and OMB [Office of Management and Budget] started the Hiring Excellence Campaign to improve hiring by raising awareness of available hiring authorities.

“It seems like every year or two, there’s a new initiative,” Lankford concluded.

Yet after all the initiatives, the time to hire new federal employees is going backward.

“In 2013, it took about 90 days on average to do a hiring,” according to Lankford, chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs subcommittee on federal management. “In 2014, it took 94.4 days to do a — a federal hire. In 2015, it now takes 99.6 days.”

Mark Reinhold, OPM’s chief human capital officer and associate director for employee services, defended the latest endeavor, saying the Hiring Excellence Campaign is designed to bring all the others together. “We’re attempting to take a more holistic approach,” he said, “so that we don’t over-emphasize any of those important aspects of hiring.

Lankford called the hearing at the urging of Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.) the top Democrat on the subcommittee. The purpose was to explore a dilemma the government needs to solve. Almost a third of career civilian federal employees are eligible to retire in 2019. Yet, Uncle Sam lags when it comes to hiring millennials, generally described as those under age 40.

Although 45 percent of the nation’s labor force were millennials in 2014, the Government Accountability Office reported that just 30 percent of the federal workforce was. Even more concerning, “agencies that have high rates of retirement eligibility also tend to have low percentages of millennials in the workforce.”

This only exacerbates personnel shortages in critical areas like cybersecurity, which the GAO said, “are threatening the ability of agencies to carry out their missions.”

One problem that doesn’t get much attention is the government’s human resource staffing shortage.

“Over the years it’s been decimated to the point where we don’t have the number of folks actually on board to do the work that they need to do,” said Angela Bailey, the Department of Homeland Security’s chief human capital officer and a former OPM official. “They are not well-trained anymore.”

The focus of the hearing was young adults, but that didn’t stop senators from exploring troubles with a federal hiring process that afflicts people regardless of age.

One of the first problems job seekers face is the application process. That begins with USAJobs.gov, the government’s online jobs board. “That website is not a good first introduction,” Heitkamp said by phone. She called it a cumbersome site that leaves candidates thinking their applications fell into an abyss.

“I never met anyone,” she added, “who felt that website was number one, welcoming or number two, very efficient.”

That must be discouraging to OPM, which last month launched a new version of USAJobs to make the service “more user friendly.” Reinhold said user satisfaction over the last year increased from 72 percent to 79 percent, an all-time high.

Making the entire hiring process more user-friendly is a subject the Partnership for Public Service, a nonprofit that examines federal management issues, has long studied.

“With only about one percent of the federal workforce under the age of 25 and just over six percent of the federal workforce under the age of 30, agencies must do better at attracting, hiring and retaining millennial employees,” said Max Stier, the Partnership’s president and chief executive. He did not testify at the hearing.

The time for doing that better job is now, Heitkamp said.

“It is essential that the federal government be prepared to recruit and retain the top talent from this generation of workers as effectively as possible,” she said, “and as soon as possible.”

That preparation remains a work in progress.

Read more:

[Relaunched USAJobs is aimed at making it easier to apply for federal work]

[Why is it so hard to get a federal job? Here’s one reason]

[Federal hiring, fixed before, needs fixing again]