The federal personnel chief unveiled plans Monday to improve the government’s biggest jobs board and “untie the knots” in hiring and recruiting new employees, eliminating long-standing obstacles for job seekers and managers trying to find top talent.
The wide-reaching “road map” also is designed to make the federal workforce more diverse and its employees more engaged with their jobs, said Office of Personnel Management Director Katherine Archuleta, who has spent the last year talking to job candidates in and out of government to identify where the process falls short.
Her listening tour, which spanned college campuses and federal offices across the country, made it clear that the Obama administration faces many barriers to recruiting, hiring and retaining employees just as a wave of retirements increases the urgency of bringing fresh talent to government.
Among the problems: Hiring managers often are blocked by rigid rules from hiring talented candidates, Archuleta said. Job seekers send résumés to apply for open jobs, only to hear nothing for months, if at all. Human resources staff members, who do the bulk of hiring, are poorly trained. With 70 percent of open jobs filled by employees already in government, the pool of positions that are truly available to those outside is relatively small.
“Agencies have been so tangled up with all the procedures for hiring,” Archuleta said at a briefing in a basement room at OPM headquarters that has been turned into the agency’s symbolic Innovation Lab.
“How do we begin to untie the knots?” she said. “Many of the hiring managers haven’t had training for this.”
The OPM, the agency that sets personnel policies for the government, is strengthening its role as a resource for agencies, from improving the hiring process to helping them recruit and train senior executives with strong leadership skills.
“We’re saying to agencies, ‘Let us come in. Let us help you with this,’ ” Archuleta said. “We need to teach them how to fish.”
She acknowledged that “there are laws and regulations” that seem like obstacles to hiring the most qualified candidates to federal jobs: “The merit system says, ‘This is how we must hire.’ ”
But she said hiring staff at some agencies also subscribe to long-standing myths about the hiring process. These include the belief that managers have little flexibility to hire disabled candidates, including veterans. The truth is that they can be fast-tracked through what’s known as noncompetitive authority. The same goes for hard-to-fill science, technology, engineering and math jobs.
The strategy announced Monday relies heavily on data and technology to give hiring managers and job seekers easy-to-access information. For example, USAJobs.gov, the federal jobs board, now lists areas of the country with vacancies for various job categories. The OPM’s digital team also is using technology to get a clearer look at why some candidates abandon the application process on USAJobs. (The answer appears to be that it’s too cumbersome and takes too long.)
The team is identifying what a revamped USAJobs site will look like; a full rollout will not come until next winter, Archuleta said. One improvement will be shorter, easier-to-read job descriptions that are written in plain English, not government jargon. Small changes will be announced starting this spring.
The OPM spent millions of dollars to bring the USAJobs site in-house from Monster.com in 2011, in part to make it easier for federal agencies to post vacancies and receive applications. But the rollout was plagued by software glitches and other problems. Archuleta said the agency is still addressing “back office” issues.
The agency has made a push to train human resources staff in the basics of hiring. The training also is supposed to improve the government’s largely ineffective Pathways internship program, which was started two years ago to help launch young people on a federal career but is so beset by problems that only a trickle of workers has been hired.
The OPM also is focusing on improving the caliber of senior leaders in government.
The Senior Executive Service, which includes about 6,000 of the government’s top executives, needs to attract better candidates, Archuleta said. This could be accomplished through a streamlined application process that eliminates essays and relies on résumés, and a new program that helps agencies identify innovative candidates with leadership potential.