Hiring Reform Celebrates First Anniversary

By Amanda Davis and Brooke Bohnet

The federal government has made major strides on reforming its hiring processes since focusing on the effort a little more than a year ago. Work on improving the system will continue. “We’re still not done yet,” acknowledged John Berry, director of the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), in a news release.


Federal hiring reform efforts officially began on May 11, 2010 when President Obama outlined new hiring policies in a Presidential Memorandum. He directed OPM to help agencies streamline their hiring processes, calling for the elimination of the time-consuming Knowledge, Skills and Abilities (KSA) essays in the initial application, faster hiring and several other changes.

“To deliver the quality services and results the American people expect and deserve, the federal government must recruit and hire highly qualified employees, and public service should be a career of choice for the most talented Americans. Yet the complexity and inefficiency of today's federal hiring process deters many highly qualified individuals from seeking and obtaining jobs in the federal government,” Obama said in the memorandum.

The administration took another step toward reform in December when President Obama released an Executive Order on Student Pathways, simplifying the path into government for students and recent graduates. The order eliminated the Federal Career Intern Program (FCIP) and called for a standard entry into government for recent graduates through the newly created Recent Graduate Program. Over the course of the coming months, OPM will draft and release regulations with implementation guidelines for the Student Pathway Programs. 

    “We applaud government for taking strides to improve the hiring process,” said Tim McManus, Partnership for Public Service Vice President for Education and Outreach. “This one-year anniversary is the perfect opportunity to look carefully at what has changed in the way our federal government recruits and hires our nation's best and brightest.”

In an effort to highlight some of these improvements, the Partnership for Public Service spoke with Angela Bailey, OPM’s Deputy Associate Director for Recruitment & Diversity.

    Questions and Answers with OPM's Angela Bailey:

    Partnership: In the past year, what are the three most significant changes that took place as a result of hiring reform? 

    Bailey: "The three most significant changes that took place, and are taking place as a result of hiring reform are significant improvement in agencies elimination of KSA essay questions in favor of a resume approach; plain language and streamlined job announcements; and an estimated 20 percent decrease in the average time to hire."

    Partnership: What can we expect to see in the year ahead?  

    Bailey: "We will see continued improvement in time-to-hire along with manager involvement.  We will also see an increase in applicant notification through USAJOBS, along with the release of new tools for HR professionals and hiring officials, all designed to improve the applicant and hiring manager experience.  We will see increased agency use of state-of-the-art assessment tools that OPM is currently piloting, which will allow applicants to take a battery of assessments once and reuse their scores when applying to multiple job opportunities.  And we can expect to see proposed regulations that will implement President Obama’s Pathways Executive Order, which creates a streamlined hiring process for students and recent graduates."


    Read the full interview transcript.

Berry continued this conversation during a panel discussion at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. in mid-May. He commented on the dramatic progress made in improving the federal government's hiring processes over the past year and shared several of the successful outcomes of the hiring reform efforts to date, including:


  • Hiring based on resumes and cover letters 91 percent of the time;

  • Ninety-six percent of job opportunity announcements no longer requiring KSA essays;

  • Applicants are now seeing shorter, easy-to-read job announcements, with 86 percent in plain language, and 66 percent are five pages or fewer; and

  • Government-wide time to hire is down about 15 percent to an average time of 105 days.


"This progress reflects an aggressive, innovative approach to implementation," Berry said in a news release. "Our government-wide efforts will ensure that we build and maintain the modern hiring system we need to attract the next wave of the best and brightest Americans to federal employment.

Call to Serve Hiring Reform Survey

In April, 162 campuses responded to a survey about changes in the hiring process. This is what Call to Serve campuses had to say:

  • Improving communication and shortening the application had the strongest favorable ratings with 56.9 percent rating that electronic notification better or much better and 62.5 percent rating the removal of KSAs from the initial application better or much better.

  • As for improving the overall hiring process, 41.1 percent thought the process stayed the same and 50.6 percent thought the process was better or much better.

    Open-ended comments reflected frustrations and hope around the changes from hiring reform, the regulations process for Student Pathways, budgets and agency-specific hiring freezes:

  • “This year was a downer with the budget being prolonged, the FCIP evaporating, and the Pathways Programs passed but no implementation strategy in place. Most agencies were left sitting on their hands with no money or mechanisms for hiring.”

  • “The hiring system remains encumbered with layers of processes. I have direct contact with several HR professionals in federal agencies. They have been stymied in their efforts to recruit new people because of budget problems and inconsistent messages from supervisors.”

  • “I still don't know whether there are real jobs available or if there is a hiring freeze.”

  • "It seems like there is an effort to simplify the process."




Amanda Davis is an Associate Manager at the Partnership for Public Service. ADavis@ourpublicservice.org

Amanda joined the Education and Outreach team at the Partnership in September 2009. Her work at the Partnership primarily includes the
Federal Service Student Ambassadors as well as other Call to Serve initiatives.

Amanda graduated from Boston College with an honors Philosophy degree. During her time at Boston College, Amanda was an active member of a Student Advisory Committee, planning student events and managing a lecture series. Additionally, Amanda has interned at Morgan Stanley and worked in the Office of Undergraduate Admissions at Boston College.

Brooke Bohnet is a Program Manager at the Partnership for Public Service. BBohnet@ourpublicservice.org

Brooke joined the Partnership’s Education and Outreach team in March 2007. Her work primarily includes working with the 740 campuses and 75 federal agencies in the Call to Serve network, and managing the Call to Serve Innovation Grants. Both initiatives aim to educate young people about federal service by re-establishing connections between college campuses and federal agencies.

Brooke completed a dual-major in Politics and International Relations/Psychology at Scripps College in Claremont, CA. After earning her degree, Brooke participated in Teach for America. While teaching, she completed her master’s degree at Johns Hopkins University. Brooke has non-profit experience working with the National Association of Black School Leadership and has spent time working on campaigns in Ohio and Cambridge, Massachusetts. She is now pursuing a Masters in Public Administration at George Washington University.

Printer-Friendly Version