NIST Expands Hiring Authorities for Top-Level Tech Talent

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The standards-setting agency is making it easier for hiring managers to onboard IT managers, engineers and scientists through new direct hiring authorities.

There is a critical shortage of qualified IT professionals in government and the National Institute for Standards and Technology is changing its hiring practices to reflect that need.

On Thursday, the agency plans to announce an expansion of its direct hiring authorities to include IT managers, general engineers and general physical scientists in its top pay bands. Going forward, all of NIST’s top-level scientific and engineering positions in Pay Band III through V—equivalent to a GS-11 to GS-15—will be considered a critical shortage, enabling hiring managers to bypass laws governing eligibility preferences.

General employees in the D.C.-metro area in those career paths and pay band tiers make between $68,000 and $164,000, according to the 2018 pay scale; supervisors at those levels make between $112,000 and $164,000 annually.

NIST has issued direct hiring authorities for critical positions in the past, including a 2012 change permanently giving authority to expedite hiring for certain scientific and engineering technician career paths. However, that move only applied to nuclear reactor operators and specifically exempted other technical positions, such as IT management.

With the latest rule change, NIST will now include all scientific and engineering positions in Pay Band III and above as critical shortages, including the IT management, general engineer and general physical science career paths.

NIST officials still plan to advertise job openings through the USAJobs site, but the direct hire authority allows them to disregard a large swath of the federal hiring code—section 3309 through section 3318—that outlines groups of prospective candidates who should be given preference in hiring decisions, such as veterans and former federal employees with clean records.

“The expanded direct-hire authority will allow NIST to simplify and expedite hiring for managers in mission critical occupations, and, in accordance with the [President’s Management Agenda], take a step towards building the workforce of the 21st century,” according to a Federal Register notice set to be published Thursday.

The Office of Management and Budget recently loosened the reins for direct hire authorities across government, giving additional powers to department chief information officers to make the determination of need and issue the requisite authority. Those powers go into effect next month.