Are hiring authorities helping agencies?

The Office of Personnel Management found that HR officials say special hiring authorities are used differently across agencies, and some may be unknown to hiring managers.

employee data (kentoh/

Agencies and lawmakers have long talked about the cumbersome, lengthy government hiring process, and pushed the use of federal hiring authorities to bring employees in faster. Now a new Office of Personnel Management study measures the use of those powers and their effectiveness.

Since 1995, executive branch hiring has trended away from competitive service positions, with excepted service becoming increasingly prevalent. In 1995, more than 80 percent of feds were hired under competitive service rules -- by 2015, that figure had dropped to about 70 percent.

In 2015, more than 82 percent of excepted service positions were filled using hiring authorities outside the four OPM schedules — Schedules A, B, C and D. Of the four OPM schedules, Schedule A was the most commonly used, comprising nearly 14 percent of excepted services jobs.

"Most agencies could apply more effectively the agency-unique Schedule A authority," OPM states.

The report notes that more than 40 percent of excepted service hiring was done outside of Title 5 authorities. Inside Title 5, agencies typically lean on 11 of the 62 existing authorities to make excepted service hires. Of the nearly 500,000 excepted made between 2012 and 2016, 93 percent are covered by hiring codes -- including veterans recruitment appointment, critical need, temporary employees, attorneys, physical disability, as well as interns and pathways program participants.

These codes also include authorities covered by a law, regulation or executive order. The Departments of Justice, Interior, Homeland Security, Health and Human Services and the Agency for International Development used such authorities, coded ZLM, for 41percent of all excepted service appointments.

The report suggests that ZLM is used as a catchall to code hires made to comply with the demands of law and regulation. "It is possible that overlapping or incongruent relationships exist between agency unique authorities under ZLM and agency-unique authorities under Schedule A," the report states. OPM also said it was "unclear" why some agencies used this code at such a higher frequency than others.

The majority of the 62 authorities were used sparingly or not at all. The report suggests that the limited use of 32 hiring authorities "may indicate hiring managers are not aware some of the authorities exist."

From July 2015 through June 2016, the 15 agencies OPM studied filled 55 percent of its mission-critical vacancies via excepted service hires. More than three-quarters of hiring managers told OPM the use of these authorities helped meet organizational goals.

However, OPM found lack of documentation, and recommends agencies to establish protocols to keep track of all excepted service hiring actions. The personnel agency also said it will issue guidance to agencies on how to take better advantage of social media to recruit employees.

The report also notes that around 35 percent of hiring managers indicated some level of dissatisfaction with the quantity and quality of candidates, and that most hiring managers "had no role in the earlier stages of the hiring process."

"While the majority of mission critical occupations at the 15 agencies studied were

filled through the strategic use of excepted service hiring authorities, effective use of these authorities would be improved by addressing knowledge gaps, fostering collaboration between HR staff and hiring managers, and creating a stronger social media recruitment presence," the report states.

OPM also found agencies lack policies surrounding excepted service. Less than one-quarter of agencies have "comprehensive information" about general excepted service hiring requirements and procedures, and 94 percent lack guidance on how to apply hiring authorities used by the agency. Moreover, only one-third of policies have been updated in the last decade.

Jeff Neal, the former chief human capital officer at the Department of Homeland Security and a 33-year veteran of the federal workforce, said "poorly trained HR specialists" and "inadequate recruiting process," in particular, "are the biggest problems."

"HR folks who do not fully understand what they are doing can create problems with virtually every aspect of HR," he said. "Inadequate recruiting processes drive the problem with quality and quantity of applicants. Too many federal HR folks think posting on USAJobs is recruiting."