The Obama Administration Speeds Up Federal Hiring
Policy + Politics

The Obama Administration Speeds Up Federal Hiring

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The Obama administration implemented sweeping changes to the federal hiring process Tuesday to make it easier and faster to hire new government employees. Following years of complaints that federal hiring practices were hopelessly mired in red tape and bureaucratic delays, the change is expected to reduce by half the time it takes to fill vacancies and enhance the government’s ability to compete with the private sector for strong talent.

Under the old method, the hiring process took an average of five months, with as many as 40 individual steps and 19 signatures needed, said John Berry, director of the Office of Personnel Management, in unveiling the changes. The overhaul eliminates required knowledge skills assessment essays, which will allow people to apply for a job with a simple cover letter and resume, saving millions of hours and getting rid of cumbersome paperwork. "This initiative is the biggest step forward for fixing federal hiring in over three decades," Berry said. "It will substantially reduce the time and aggravation it takes to find and hire the best. When we've achieved that goal, all of government will work better."

Each year, the federal government adds about 330,000 employees to its 2 million person workforce, through a process that has long been criticized as byzantine and cumbersome by lawmakers, the Government Accountability Office and academics. Streamlining hiring will save time and money, and result in better talent, Berry told an audience of government employees, managers and journalists.

"Mounting deficits and debt are placing enormous pressure on government spending. At the same time, trust in government is on the decline," said Jeffrey Zients, Obama's chief performance officer, noting that only 22 percent of Americans trust the government -- a half-century low. "To make sure every tax dollar is spent wisely, we have to get the right people."

In addition to throwing out the knowledge essays, Berry said the changes will:

  • Eliminate the "rule of three," which limited hiring managers to evaluating the top three applicants for a position.
  • Implement "shared registers" so that different divisions of the same agency can view the same applicants' qualifications, rather than having to start the hiring process anew.
  • Cut in half the average length of time to make a hire, to about 80 days. In some agencies, it can take up to 200 days to process a hire, and 140 days is not uncommon.
  • Simplify the lengthy descriptions of open positions to three pages in plain English.

By moving to a simple resume and cover letter, the government will be better able to compete with the private sector for talent and also exploit private-sector software and other tools for evaluating job candidates. Berry and Zients, charged with implementing the changes, will report back to Obama every 90 days on progress and the development of metrics to evaluate the quality of new hires.

The administration also wants lawmakers to pass legislation that would allow different departments to hire from a shared pool of applicants. Sens. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii,  and George Voinovich, R-Ohio,  had previously proposed legislation that would simplify the federal hiring process.

As he took office, President Obama vowed to make it “cool again” to work for the federal government, and one of the ways he could make it cool was to streamline and simplify the hiring process.  In response to a question about when it was last “cool” to work for the government, Berry brought up President John F. Kennedy's call to government service in the 1960s.

"That is the age of Pericles the president calls us back to," Berry said.