House lawmakers uneasy about hiring reforms

By Jason Miller
Executive Editor
Federal News Radio

House and Senate lawmakers don’t seem to be on the same page when it comes to federal hiring reforms.

The day after the Senate passed a bill that endorses many of the same changes to the federal hiring process that the White House wants, House lawmakers expressed serious concerns about those same proposed modifications.

Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.), chairman of the Oversight and Government Subcommittee on the Federal Workforce, the Postal Service and the District of Columbia, says the proposed reforms could have a severe impact on group of potential employees.

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“I’m concerned that the non-competitive processes that have evolved would diminish the number of veterans that are hired,” Lynch says during a hearing on the administration’s proposed hiring reforms Wednesday. “I’ve seen from this position as chairman attempts by some agencies to completely circumvent the veterans hiring process and not just with a few people, but to obtain basically a waiver from hiring veterans and that concerns me greatly.”

Lynch points to the current state of veterans hiring where at most agencies veterans make up less than 10 percent of the entire workforce. Lynch says beyond the Defense, the Veterans Affairs and the Homeland Security departments, the government’s track record hasn’t been good.

Meanwhile, the Senate Tuesday night passed the Federal Hiring Process Improvement Act (S. 736), sponsored by Sens. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii) and George Voinovich (R-Ohio).

The bill would require agencies to:

  • Develop strategic workforce plans, addressing hiring projections and critical skills gaps in the workforce;
  • Post clear job announcements in plain writing;
  • No longer require knowledge, skills and abilities (KSAs) essays, instead letting applicants submit resumes and cover letters;
  • Provide timely notification to applicants of their application status, taking no more than 10 business days after a position is filled to notify non-successful candidates;
  • Take an average of 80 days from the time a manager decides to fill a vacancy to the time an offer is made for the vacant position;
  • Keep an inventory of all applicants who elect to be considered for other federal vacancies; and
  • Measure the effectiveness of hiring efforts and reforms.

A Voinovich spokeswoman says there is no House companion bill.

At the House hearing, Lynch wanted to know more about how OPM would ensure veterans were not getting short changed.

The Obama administration launched a veterans hiring initiative in November and 26 agencies now have full-time veteran employee coordinators, says John Berry, the director of the Office of Personnel Management.

“OPM’s strategic plan focuses on dismantling the barriers to veterans, increase employment counseling, develop a marketing campaign aimed to bring more veterans into the civilian agencies and developing a one-stop gateway for information on veterans hiring staffed by veterans,” Berry says.

OPM and the Chief Human Officer’s Council will meet in the next month or so to set specific goals for veterans hiring in 2011.

“What we are looking at as an approach that is being discussed, if you are in the lowest category, 5-to-10 percent hiring, then you’ve got to do more and we will put a higher burden on your shoulders to catch up,” Berry says. “If you are at DoD and you already at 50 percent, they are not going to be able to have that same percentage increase. So we are asking the agencies at the top to hold the line while we bring those at the bottom up.”

He adds that OPM is in the 25-to-30 percent range for hiring veterans.

But that is not the only issue Lynch and other subcommittee members were concerned about.

Lynch and several others also wondered why the administration didn’t end the Federal Career Internship Program instead of spending the time reviewing it.

Rep. Eleanor Holmes-Norton (D-D.C.) asked Berry why no one has been overseeing this program, which the National Treasury Employees Union and others believe is out of control.

Lynch says the number of students in the FCIP grew to almost 28,000 in 2009 from 400 in 2003.

“It’s just exploded in its utilization,” he says. “I’m concerned some agencies are using it to circumvent the competitive hiring practice. The other is the human side of this. We have some very talented career federal employees and the impact on them when a new administration comes in and all of a sudden they start hiring interns through a non-competitive, closed process and these new people parachute in at a higher rate of pay and at a higher rate of responsibility than the person who has been very competently doing that job for a long time. That is devastating to the morale of our federal employees.”

Berry says he is limited to how much he can say about FCIP because NTEU has filed a lawsuit, which he is a plaintiff on, and the President wants recommendations about what to do with the program in the next 90 days.

He, however, did say that the CHCO Council will establish a working group to review every federal internship program as part of the White House’s request for recommendations.

Berry says part of the working group’s effort will include a public meeting to hear questions, concerns, ideas and complaints. He expects the open meeting to take place in June.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), the subcommittee’s ranking member, says 80 days to hire someone-which is OPM’s goal-still seems too long. He also wants to know how these reforms are part of the administration’s plan to increase the size of the federal government.

Berry says 80 days is the average for most Fortune 500 private sector companies.

In fact, Berry says the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which has been the poster agency for slow hiring process of more than 170 days, has cut their time to less than 80 days.

Berry also would like the committee’s help to improve the hiring process. He says currently agencies cannot share resumes of qualified applicants so Congress needs to change legislation to allow that.

OPM also is expecting the next set of change for USAJobs.gov to come later this year.

The agency redesigned the site in January and added a tool to accept resumes earlier this year. Berry says USAJobs.gov soon will have add a resume assessment tool, which is commonly used in the private sector.

He also disputed Chaffetz’s claims that the administration wants to hire more federal employees.

“I can assure you, there is no plan to have a major increase of federal government employees,” Berry says in response to Chaffetz’s questioning. “We hire an average of 200,000 to 300,000 a year, but that is for jobs that people have retired from or left. It is not additional or new jobs.”

Lynch and other committee members applauded the fact that the administration was at least trying to solve many of these long-standing federal hiring problems.

“No one has done anything on this for 16 years, both Democrat and Republican administrations,” Lynch says. “The President has asked you to come here and he’s put through a plan to fix something that has been broken for a long time. You deserve credit on that end. It’s good that you are here. It’s good that the President has launched this initiative. It’s a delicate balancing act, like you have laid out here. We have to do all these things like make sure the veterans are OK, we get some young people into the process and above all we get good, motivated employees to work in the federal government.”

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