The Department of Defense has civilian hiring authorities that were added in order to actively recruit key talent ready to serve the nation’s defense. The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) represents 700,000 federal employees, which includes approximately 300,000 employees within the DoD. The AFGE asserts that instead of helping, the civilian hiring authorities for the DoD have played a role in the department’s struggle to find and keep enough talent – especially in key areas like STEM, acquisition, financial management, cyber, artificial intelligence and foreign language skills.
AFGE Letter to Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks
The AFGE National President Everett Kelly said in a letter to the Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks, “The Department of Defense has sought these authorities purportedly in the quest for greater management flexibility, often to the detriment of the long-term job security of employees being hired into the department.”
AFGE pointed out that skill gaps have persisted after a number of different “flexibilities” were provided to DoD. They cited the different programs that were put in place and failed to change the status within these critical career fields within DoD.
“In fact, the mis-use of authorities have arguably has been one of the primary factors leading to these persistent skill gaps in the workforce…The perception that an employee only has a single skill that cannot be adapted and developed as the Department’s missions change is exemplified in the way personnel caps have been used in some cases to discard skills through the egregious mis-use of term and temporary appointments.”
Term Personnel a Problem in DoD Hiring
AFGE sites the reliance on term personnel has been a key problem area. From 2016 to 2019 term personnel increased by 40 percent. Along with the increase in term employees the required statute in place to access employee perceptions was ignored. “The lost capabilities and talents that are not developed as a result of this short-sighted approach to management contribute to the persistent skill gap problems of the Department.”
AFGE also claims a lack of oversight by the Office of Personnel Management. This lack of oversight has led to duplicate programs and an overall mismanagement of resources and can misuse the program as it lacks recognition that the Americans with Disabilities Act or other civil rights laws applicable to the federal government.
Flexible Hiring in DoD – More Cumbersome
The union also points out the “reforms” from Congress led by the Department can lead to expensive methods where less expensive alternatives to fill skill gaps of DoD can exist. “If only the Department, through the assistance of a reinvigorated Office of Personnel Management were to revive the objective assessment tools that had been successfully used before to generate the larger lists of qualified and diverse candidates.”
This is not the first time “flexibility” has been sighted as a problem when it comes to hiring. HR professionals from several different agencies testified in a 2019 hearing that the different special authorities with different titles for various job types make the job of hiring managers more cumbersome.
AFGE urged DoD to cut back on hiring caps, siloing various positions requiring applicants to apply for each program/position, removing unnecessary degree requirements, extending probation periods, all while expanding on existing incentive programs like the three-year Cyber Scholarship program to attract and keep talented employees.