OPM issues guidance on implementing Trump-era hiring policy

OPM Director Kiran Ahuja, shown here at a White House event held last October, just announced plans to implement hiring policy set down in a 2020 executive order.

OPM Director Kiran Ahuja, shown here at a White House event held last October, just announced plans to implement hiring policy set down in a 2020 executive order. Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

The U.S. Digital Service has also been embedding in agencies to help build internal competency-based hiring abilities in federal agencies.

The Office of Personnel Management on Thursday issued guidance implementing a Trump-era executive order that instructed agencies to expand competency-based hiring while decreasing reliance on educational attainment and self-evaluations to evaluate candidates.

"The Biden-Harris Administration fully supports expanding 'skills-based' hiring for federal jobs," the new guidance states. "Skills-based hiring helps hiring managers focus on what candidates know how to do, not where they learned it. It values all relevant skills for the role at hand, whether they are learned in the classroom, on the job, or on one's own."

The push around competency-based hiring isn't coming from OPM alone.

During a Code for America panel Tuesday, Mina Hsiang, administrator of the U.S. Digital Service, said USDS is embedded in over half a dozen agencies "helping them build out their own internal capabilities to hire."

Hsiang told FCW that competency-based hiring has been a longtime focus of USDS.

"Sometimes [USDS' work with agencies] looks like helping them understand how to do competency-based hiring because it's not the normal way that hiring is done. Sometimes it's helping them hire some individuals onto their team who have expertise in recruiting. Sometimes we actually supply the technical talent to sort of start the flywheel of helping them do competency-based hiring because you have to have people who know what answers to look for," she said.

USDS has found that "the best way to make progress" is "to actually go and work side by side for a certain amount of time to help … understand their goal and their needs and then go to help them get ramped up in that," she said. 

One type of competency-based hiring is subject matter expert qualification assessments, or SME-QA. It's a process that draws subject matter experts into the hiring process, originally tested by USDS with OPM and since used in other agencies, including the State Department.

However, there's a range of options for competency-based hiring, depending on factors like the agency and the role being hired for, said Hsiang.

The new OPM material includes a guide to occupational questionnaires, a commonly used assessment method in automated staffing systems, as well as an updated "General Schedule Qualifications Manual," which contains instructions for agencies on determining if applicants meet qualifications for General Schedule positions. OPM also released a frequently asked questions document for agencies.

OPM says skills-based hiring approaches have added benefits of expanding the pool of job applicants for federal jobs and improving applicant and manager satisfaction. 

"By focusing on what an applicant can do—and not where they learned to do it—skills-based hiring will expand talent pools by making it easier for applicants without a bachelor's degree to demonstrate their skills and will help remove barriers to employment for historically under-represented groups," said OPM Director Kiran Ahuja in a statement. "By drawing from the diversity of this country, agencies can be better equipped to tackle the challenges before us."