OPM Gives Agencies Permission to Fast-Track Hiring of Digital Teams


Agencies will now have greater latitude to hire digital services experts on a temporary basis.

President Barack Obama’s 2016 budget blueprint included an ambitious plan to create in-house digital teams at agencies across government, staffed with top technical talent and built in the image of a White House team that helped rescue HealthCare.gov from disaster.

The big question was always: How would agencies attract Facebook- and Google-level digital talent? Now, the Office of Personnel Management is beginning to provide some answers.

In a May 1 memo to the heads of agencies, OPM Director Katherine Archuleta announced all agencies would have the ability to bypass some parts of the meandering federal hiring process to onboard digital services experts.

Under so-called Schedule A hiring authority approved by OPM, agencies can fill digital positions at the GS-11 through GS-15 level in temporary, one-year positions. These can be renewed in one-year increments, but only up until Sept. 30, 2017.

The authority allows agencies to recruit for positions outside USAJobs.gov, the federal government’s notoriously clunky career site. (In fact, the White House digital team has been recruiting candidates of its own through a much sleeker interface directly on its website). Agencies still must follow rules for veterans’ preferences and must seek approval from OPM first before passing over candidates with disabilities.

Last summer, OPM approved excepted-service hiring authority for the Office of Management and Budget (home to USDS headquarters), the General Services Administration’s 18F digital team and the Department of Veterans Affairs, which was one of the first agencies to create a digital team in pilot mode.

The new authority is limited to potential hires who will be “directly associated” with agencies’ build-out of their digital teams.

Here’s what the memo says about the nature of these positions:

These technical positions would involve in-depth knowledge of and experience in creating modern digital services, gap analysis expertise in understanding where shortfalls exist in capacity to design, develop, deploy, and operate customer-facing services, specialized knowledge in digital service consolidation and migration, cloud service utilization, and business process standardization to support a wide variety of mission requirements.  

Archuleta’s memo also laid out pre-approved projects prospective digital service staffers could work on. Her memo includes a “high-impact list” of projects. They include:

  • The upcoming 2020 census; agency officials have planned to provide more Internet response options, but watchdog reports have already raised concerns.
  • Creating online systems for processing immigration forms at the Department of Homeland Security. (A digital team working in pilot mode has already attempted some fixes there.)
  • DHS’ “Einstein” intrusion-detection system and the governmentwide “Continuous Diagnostics & Mitigation” platform, which aims to scan agency networks in real time.
  • Modernizing the federal student application process at the Education Department.
  • The FBI’s Next-Generation Identification system, which aims to upgrade the FBI’s traditional fingerprint databases with a host of new high-tech options.
  • HealthCare.gov (still).
  • Coming up with ways to improve archiving electronic federal records at the National Archives and Records Administration.
  • Modernizing the background check investigation process at OPM. Because of antiquated systems, contractors who perform investigations are often using pen and paper and are unable to electronically send in attachments (police reports, for example).

(Image via Jirsak/ Shutterstock.com)