The Department of Housing and Urban Development hired more than 1,000 new employees last fiscal year.
The agency needed to replenish a workforce that had been hit hard from employees leaving from both sides of the spectrum — many long-time employees retired and many recent hires left for other jobs.
“We calculated we needed to hire up to 1,200 people and the senior leadership of the agency set a target of 1,000 and that was our goal,” said Michael Anderson, HUD’s chief human capital officer. “We had to do a lot of things and overcome a lot of challenges to make that happen. We exceeded 1,000. We expect to end up having hired north of 1,020.”
The fact that HUD, which has about 8,000 employees nationwide, both received permission — and really the necessary funding — and fought through the customarily arduous federal hiring process is a double success in many regards.
Over the last three years, few agencies have received the go-ahead to replace workers, and most have suffered hiring freezes. The National Federation of Federal Employees said in 2013, agencies hired nearly 81,000 employees — the lowest amount since 2003. The Partnership for Public Service reports that the number of new hires to the government has declined every year since 2009.
Anderson said HUD had been losing long-time employees in droves, including 700 workers in 2014 alone. But it wasn’t just employees with 30 or 40 years of experience, the department also saw more recent hires leaving.
“Our employees get extremely good training in their fields and they become very marketable for other agencies. There are a lot of other agencies out there that are on pay banding systems where they can actually earn more money outside the GS system,” said Towanda Brooks, HUD’s deputy CHCO. “The other thing is through some of our transformation initiatives we’ve offered VERA/VISA, which is the early retirement authority. A lot of people have taken that authority to go out on an early out.”
Every grade, every position was open
Brooks said about 47 people took the early retirement authority the first time around, and that number is growing through the second and potentially third early out offerings.
The combination of retirements, early outs and people leaving opened up positions at every grade level and across both headquarters and field offices. She said the open positions ranged from management and financial analysts to public housing directors and housing finance assistance to program and project managers and summer interns.
Brooks said HUD had not only frozen hiring over the last few years, but also stopped bringing in students as interns, which impacted its ability to recruit from colleges and universities.
“This year  we did a lot more planning. Our program offices were really able to look at what they needed to hire by experience level and then plan for it,” she said. “We’ll have people with less than five years, but a lot more people in the 10-to-15 year career range because we are getting requests for leave accrual, which is mid-level managers requesting additional leave. We are able to monitor some of that through and that shows we are getting some experienced people. We also are recruiting at the senior executive level. We are seeing a lot of interest in HUD for career opportunities.”
Brooks said the field offices received some much-needed new hires.
“We’ve attracted new people to the federal government. We’ve attracted people from other federal agencies that have the experience, and then we’ve also brought in veterans, who either have retired from the military or are coming out of the military looking for opportunities,” she said. “I think this time around for HUD our diversity of age levels, background and experience, which we will report out later, will show a truly diverse workforce.”
While HUD had more than enough interest in its 1,000 open positions, it had to figure out the best to bring in those employees in an expedient fashion.
Taking advantage of existing authorities
Anderson said HUD received no special hiring authorities from the Office of Personnel Management. Instead, he said, the CHCO office used what already exists, such as veterans preference or Peace Corp volunteers.
He said HUD also had to deal with additional complexities, including a new hiring system and an understaffed HR office.
“It took an agencywide effort. I do want to recognize the senior leadership for owning this effort,” Anderson said.
Former Secretary Shaun Donovan, now the director of the Office of Management and Budget, came to speak with the HR specialists to encourage them to do their best work, and came to Presidential Management Fellows (PMF) job fairs. In fact, HUD hosted two PMF job fairs as another approach to increase the speed to hire, Anderson added.
Brooks said the average hiring time as of August was 72.8 days. That’s a huge change from when the Obama administration came into office, when HUD averaged about 139 days from job posting to the new employee starting. As part of OPM’s hiring reform effort, HUD was among the first agencies to get hiring under the White House’s goal of 80 days. Since 2010, it has reduced the time by almost four more days.
“We actually worked together in the initial part of the hiring once our budget was passed to come up with a strategy to make sure we could bring the hires on by September,” she said. “We worked through the hiring process and we modified the 80-day process. We actually came up with a 97-day process because by the time we got the hiring plans to the end of September, we figured we had 97 days. We mapped out all of the hiring and gave our program offices specific deadlines that they had to meet in order for us to ensure that they could get their hires done. That was a major deal for us.”
HUD also had to deal with a challenge nearly every agency faces — who’s really in charge of the hiring process. When there are delays, the program hiring mangers point to the HR office and vice versa.
Brooks said to help resolve that problem the CHCO office outlined the hiring process in March and collaborated with the senior agency officials to make sure they bought into the plan and the timelines.
She said then her office met with the program officials and got agreement on the hiring strategy, which included having them develop questions, learn the new HR system and get the entire process in gear.
“It was that teamwork and that collaboration that was supremely important in this whole process. It was one of the things that made it work,” Brooks said. “We as an HR organization couldn’t have done it without the selecting officials planning their summers out. That was one of the things, doing interviews during the summer time when people are going on vacation so we had to be precise when we advertised the jobs and when managers would plan to interview. We had customer meetings with them weekly and then moved to biweekly once we were able to really track and provide that. I think the collaboration and teamwork, and the ownership the selecting officials took, they should be commended for that because they did a great job.”
Check out part 2 of this story on Thursday where HUD’s Michael Anderson and Towanda Brooks discuss how this hiring spree will change the agency’s culture.