In May the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) announced that it would consider new ways to make it easier for agencies to hire individuals for STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and cybersecurity positions.

OPM Director Jeff Pon issued a memorandum to agency chief human capital officers laying out the new direct hiring authority. Direct hiring authority attempts to speed the federal hiring process by allowing the government to appoint individuals directly, not requiring veterans’ preference or other hiring procedures.

“The U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) is aware that individuals with the knowledge, skills, and ability to perform in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) and cybersecurity occupations are in heavy demand and that this demand could, perhaps, be affecting mission critical functions,” Pon wrote in the memorandum.  “For this reason, OPM is exploring the feasibility, under applicable law, of issuing direct hire authority (DHA) for certain STEM and cybersecurity occupations.”

OPM-issued DHA must conform to applicable statutory and regulatory criteria. In order to assess whether individuals may meet those requirements OPM will proactively review the government-wide data.

Pon is asking chief human capital officers to provide feedback to streamline the hiring of tech talent. An OPM survey was issued to determine whether a government-wide or multi-agency DHA for STEM and cybersecurity positions could be justified.

“The data we need will be both qualitative and quantitative,” explained Pon, “To get a better picture of how the hiring process is working today, and better understand any challenges you may indicate you have encountered in trying to recruit for these positions.”

DOD’s Special Hiring continues with uncertain results

The Department of Defense (DOD) is one of the agencies that has relied on special hiring authorities for its laboratories as a way to bring in new talent. However, according to a new report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), it is unclear if the department measured whether those efforts were used effectively.

The report found that of the 11,500 defense lab hires from fiscal year 2015 to 2017, nearly half resulted from direct hiring capacity Congress had provided to the research facilities. Another 19 percent came from other expedited authorities.

The GAO found, “The Department of Defense’s (DOD) laboratories (defense labs) have used the laboratory-specific direct hire authorities more than any other category of agency-specific or government-wide hiring authority for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics personnel.” The report also found that the DOD’s lab’s use of hiring authority jumped from 38 percent of hires in 2015 to 54 percent in 2017. Hiring officials said these special hiring privileges were key to bringing on employees more quickly.

GAO also noted that lab officials had identified challenges to hiring highly qualified candidates, such as delays in processing security clearances, despite the use of hiring authorities such as direct hire.

However, GAO found that the DOD lacked formal performance metrics or data analysis related to these hires. GAO has advised the department to better track hiring data and use performance measures to help inform future decisions on hiring efforts and policies. The GAO also advised DOD to better establish timeframes for implementing hiring authorities more quickly. The DOD has agreed to follow GAO’s recommendations.

Federal Time to Hire Key in Cybersecurity Talent Shortage

The push for direct hiring authority comes as federal time-to-hire numbers continue to increase. In 2017 it took 106  days to hire, on average. That doesn’t include the hundreds of days it takes to process a security clearance. The months of waiting for a federal job are a sharp contrast to the private sector, where qualified cyber and IT professionals can begin work after a successful interview alone. In contrast federal workers often face months of uncertainty as an application languishes.

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Peter Suciu is a freelance writer who covers business technology and cyber security. He currently lives in Michigan and can be reached at petersuciu@gmail.com.