Last week the U.S. Army laid out its new “People Strategy,” a roadmap it will use to build a 21st century talent-based personnel management system; while also reforming essential quality of life programs and building cohesive teams that can be ready, professional, diverse and integrated for the Joint Force. The Army People Strategy is also foundational to readiness and moving the U.S. Army from the industrial to the information age, according to Army leaders. It will also guide the Army to a future in which soldiers and civilians alike are powerfully bonded to one another in cohesive teams.

Ensuring civilians can be quickly recruited and become part of the team is a problem the U.S. Army is seeking to solve – namely, lengthy time-to-hire. To do that, the Army must deal with the federal civil service system and its rules and procedures.

180-Day Cooling Off for veterans

One of the issues is that the law as it stands requires military retirees to wait 180 days after leaving the military before that individual could begin a civilian job at the Department of Defense (DoD). This policy was put into law in 1964, and was intended to ensure that there wasn’t a “revolving door” in hiring processes at the DoD. It was waived after September 11, 2001 when a national emergency was declared, but it was reinstated in 2017.

This past summer several lawmakers have argued that the mandated waiting period makes it hard for the DoD to hire qualified people as many military retirees opt to pursue careers in the private sector rather than waiting out the 180-day “cooling off” period.

“The 180-day rule creates a road block for veterans who want to continue to serve their country in retirement,” Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) one of sponsors of a bill to repeal the law, told Military Times in July. “Our bill puts in place common-sense protections to prevent unscrupulous hiring practices but ensures when we find the right person for an important DoD job, they can come on board as soon as possible.”

From 2001 to 2014, when the cooling off period was suspended, more than 41,000 retired service members were permitted to start government jobs. The United States Merit Systems Protection Board, however, expressed concerns that there could be inappropriate favoritism towards veterans.

The Senate bill includes measures to address those concerns by requiring positions within the DoD not be held open for a retiring service member, and that job requirements not offer advantages to veterans.  It also ensures veterans are put through the same standard civil service process as any other applicant.

Hiring From the Private Sector

Earlier this year the Army announced that it will move to a model it dubbed “Enterprise-IT-as-a-Service” as a way to modernize its IT infrastructure. The Army is following a strategy the U.S. Navy undertook in 2001 to consolidate its IT services with the help of private industry.

It’s just one area where the Army must reduce the time-to-hire to be competitive as an employer, and why they began an implementation plan that will be specific to civilian workers and focuses on four lines of effort that include acquiring, developing, employing and retaining talent. The acquisition of this talent will be the main pillar.

It is still in draft form, but Army HR officials have reportedly said that there are multiple ideas under consideration.

“One of the reasons that the process takes too long is a valid reason: we do have a law that governs civilian personnel and the hiring process,” Carol Burton, the director of the Army Civilian Human Resources Agency (CHRA) told an audience of civilian workers at the Association of the U.S. Army’s annual conference in Washington last Wednesday as reported by the Federal News Network.

Burton added that the Army will try various initiatives to reduce the hiring time, but will still have to protect merit system principles. This was summed up simply – in positions with limited candidates the process can be expedited as extensive ranking systems aren’t required. However, for positions with hundreds of candidates such ranking systems could come into play.

Addressing the Vetting Process

The Army has also streamlined its vetting process for positions that are both nonsensitive and require a secret clearance – where the employee can be hired after just the FBI check. That may take just 24 hours, but only if there is no derogatory information found.

Burton also explained that the Army is experimenting with allowing individuals to begin a job after taking a drug test, but prior to the results being received. This is seen as controversial as it could put the agency at risk, but given that only about 1% of applicants fail to pass the test it is seen as a “minimal risk.” The same bending of the rules is also being applied to pre-employment physicals.

Finally, to reduce the time-to-hire could require leaning heavily on direct hire authorities Congress has already granted – notably to the Army Corps of Engineers, which is one of the DoD’s largest civilian employers. According to media reports, Lt. General Todd Semonite, commander of the Corps, has said the organization has already cut its average time-to-hire to 80 days – compared to an Army-wide average of 133 days.

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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.