Government agencies continue to struggle to not only hire tech talent, but also to keep the ones that are hired. One reason is that government hiring is typically a lengthy and complex process. With virtually zero unemployment, tech pros can pick their positions and typically field on the spot offers – that’s difficulty for a government that can take months to fill positions, and years to grant clearances.
Last month the Office of Personnel Management granted a government-wide direct-hire authority in many science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) related fields – those areas where the government has had a long record of difficulties in recruiting and retention.
This is meant to address the antiquated hiring process where it takes agencies 106 days on average to hire new employees, according to fiscal 2017 OPM data. The lengthy wait has been seen as discouraging job seekers from even applying for federal careers. A Federal Register notice was posted on October 31 that noted that the effort complies with an executive order President Trump issued in May to direct OPM to assign authorities who will determine the need to expedite the hiring of IT management personnel. OPM will accept comments on this proposal until Dec. 28.
Under this new direct hire initiative agencies could appoint candidates directly, without the use of standard hiring procedures, into competitive service careers, career-conditional, term, or even temporary positions, on grounds that there is a severe shortage of candidates, or under conditions where there is a critical hiring need to fill a position that traditional hiring procedures have been unable to address.
This direct-hiring authority would apply to areas such as economists, biological science, fishery biologist, general engineer, civil engineer, physical sciences, actuary, mathematics, mathematical statistician and acquisition positions at GS-11 through -15, and computer engineer, computer scientist, electronics engineer and IT cybersecurity specialists at GS-12 through -15.
Under the newly proposed rules, agencies would have the ability to expand the use of authority for all IT fields to positions in the GS-2210 classification or equivalent, and an agency could use this authority to hire individuals into initial appointments of at least one year, but normally not to exceed four years. However, there would be a possible extension of up to another four years.
In addition, those individuals hired under these conditions could not be transferred to a non-IT position. In addition, agencies would not be required to rate and rank applicants or have them based on a rating or in categories. Instead qualified applicants who meet the required proficiency level would be deemed to be equally qualified for the respective position. Moreover, agencies could select qualified candidates based on the order in which applications were received and processed; with no preference applied other than for those eligible under placement programs that are mostly commonly used in RIFs.
Addressing the Age Gap of Workers and Equipment
This new direct-hire initiative could also address the age gap. As of fiscal 2017 just six percent of full-time employees were under the age of 30 compared with 45 percent aged 50 and above – with 21.9% of the federal workforce eligible to retire.
According to a 2015 Government Accountability Office report, 75% of the federal IT budget was spent on maintaining legacy technology systems. It isn’t just the workers that are aging. Many agencies are still relying on decades-old legacy technology when bringing new employees on board, and many agencies use software for storing resumes and hiring-related paperwork that doesn’t actually connect with systems that manage workers once they are hired.
There are several reasons cited by agency representatives for this problem and top of the list are data privacy and cybersecurity concerns; but there is also a general reluctance across many agencies simply to change current agency systems and processes. More directly, it is done that way because that is the way it has always been done.
Another factor has been tight budgets, but as noted 75% of IT budgets go towards addressing aging systems and technology infrastructure. That money could be better spent on replacing the patched and cobbled-together systems and investing in one technology that could function more effectively and efficiently – a fact noted in a Partnership for Public Service and Salesforce report from last month.