HReinvented: CPO Zients previews changes to hiring

Jeff Zients, Federal Chief Performance Officer

wfedstaff | June 3, 2015 12:35 am

By Suzanne Kubota
Senior Internet Editor

The Office of Personnel Management is working on reforms to make the federal HR system better for everyone.

Perhaps you’ve heard?

Federal Chief Performance Office Jeff Zients has been working with OPM on the improvements, so as part of our special week-long series “HR: Reinvented“, Federal News Radio asked him for his take on the system and proposed changes.


A “Zientsgeist” if you will.

His initial impression isn’t pretty. “The federal government’s human resources practices,” said Zients, “are based on a personnel system that was created many, many years ago, so as a result, many of our policies, I believe, are bureaucratic, cumbersome and outdated.”

The real underlying problem, said Zients, is that “too often we don’t focus appropriately on people as our primary tool for achieving our missions and we under-invest on management development.”

Zients said that the rebuilding of the federal HR system should begin at the beginning. To attract and retain the best people, “we need to rethink both how we hire and develop our employees.”

The place to start, said Zients, “is recruitment and hiring.”

Now is a great time to consider the options, said the Chief Performance Officer, given the economy and the excitement around the new administration. “I think we have a very good opportunity to bring high quality people into the government. We just need to make sure we have the systems to do so.”

Zients told Federal News Radio that he’s been working with OPM Director John Berry on making changes to the hiring process.

Here’s what he said to watch for “relatively soon”:

    Plain Language Job Descriptions – short and to the point. “We’ll replace 20 page documents that have traditionally been full of government lingo.”

    Resumes and Cover Letters – considered standard practice in almost all other sectors. “Rely less on burdensome essays that arguably don’t predict performance for many jobs anyhow.”

    Black Hole Process – “Where applicants don’t really know where they are in the process and making that more transparent.”

    Holding Hiring Managers Accountable for Results – working in partnership with human resource departments. “Good recruiting, good hiring, is not the HR department on its own. It’s hiring managers being held accountable, carving out significant time, and making sure that they are successfully recruiting the right people for the job.”


Zients said to watch for “significant progress” in updating the hiring process at all agencies in this calendar year with “some agencies at best practice level” so that what they’re doing can be transferred across to other agencies.

Those changes can’t happen soon enough, said Zients. As it is, “the hiring process the way it exists across most agencies today is a turn off.”

The idea that it’s a burden to apply for many positions. The idea that you wait long periods of time. You don’t know where you are in the process. The best and brightest have other opportunities and inevitably we… lose out to more nimble competitors both in the private sector and other public sector options. And as we streamline the process, we will become more competitive and we will attract more of this talent.

The interest is out there, said Zients. The President has created a lot of excitement, he said, especially with young people. “If you look across college campuses, there is an increased interest in public service and joining the federal government.”

Pay for Performance

Asked for his take on the GS system versus pay for performance, Zients said the federal government has a performance appraisal system that works well in some areas “but I think all too often not enough time is put into setting correct goals and giving good feedback and writing good reviews, and across the federal government I think we need to increase the importance of, and rigor of the appraisal system as a first step.”