Trump Administration Issues Guidance on Overhauling Federal Hiring to Emphasize Skills Over Degrees

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The guidance will help agencies implement an executive order President Trump signed in June.

The Trump administration issued guidance on Friday to help agencies implement a recent executive order to overhaul the federal hiring process to place less emphasis on college degrees.

The memo from the Office of Personnel Management to all agency heads outlines the steps federal leaders must take over the next few months to focus more on assessing candidates’ skills. The goal of the June 26 executive order, championed by Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter and adviser, is to increase diversity in the workforce and make the hiring process more equitable.  

The executive order “is aligned with the federal workforce-related priorities enumerated in the President’s Management Agenda, issued by [the Office of Management and Budget] in 2018,” wrote Michael Rigas, acting OPM director, in the memo. “With the issuance of [the order] and its implementation, the administration takes the next steps necessary to improve hiring using skill and competency-based qualifications and assessments.” 

By August 7,  agencies should establish a point of contact at the headquarters level (and an alternate) who will work with OPM on the implementation of the order, the guidance stated. Their names, titles, email addresses and phone number should be sent to Fedclass@opm.gov. These individuals will take part in upcoming focus groups, held virtually, to discuss insights, concerns and best practices regarding the new hiring practices. 

Over the summer, OPM and OMB are holding listening sessions with outside experts, agency chief human capital officers and others on best ways to implement the order. They will also be hosting ongoing webinars to help agencies change their management practices and inform them of any updated guidance. 

Later this month, OPM will start the process of changing the General Schedule qualifications policy, which outlines the standards for federal job applicants.

“At present, most agencies use federal resumes and an occupational questionnaire to screen applicants for minimum qualifications,” Rigas said. “A ‘deeper dive’ needs to be taken in order to address the actual competencies needed to perform work successfully.”  

The changes will reflect the new emphasis on skills over college degrees. OPM said it hopes to have that finalized by late October after it collects feedback from agencies. By December 24, the administration plans to have updated the manual on federal hiring, which will include the reformed general schedule policy. 

While college degree requirements are not going away, the purpose of the executive order is to give those without degrees a fairer shot at getting a job with the federal government, the nation’s largest employer. The administration signaled this desired change in its fiscal 2021 budget proposal in February.  

At a signing ceremony, President Trump said the order was a  “bold action” that would replace the “very outdated” degree-based hiring. “We want that skill to be there,” the president said. "We want it based on merit. We looked at merit for a long time and we were able to get that done, but today’s signing is a very, very important one."

Eric Katz contributed to the reporting.

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