Proposed Rule Would Let Agencies Bypass OPM to Fill Critical IT Positions

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Agency leaders would be able to determine if they face a critical shortage and issue the hiring authority without prior approval from the Office of Personnel Management.

The Office of Personnel Management’s proposed rule giving agency leaders more direct hiring authority to fill IT positions intends to go above and beyond what was called for in a presidential order signed earlier this year.

The IT workforce is a critical issue for federal agencies. The federal IT workforce is aging rapidly, with 60-year-old technology employees outnumbering the under-30 crowd by 4.6 to 1, according to a Nextgov analysis.

Under the current structure, OPM officials determine whether there is a “severe shortage of candidates or a critical hiring need” at a given agency, after which the department issues a direct hiring authority to correct the imbalance.

A May executive order giving more power to agency chief information officers required OPM to give up control over the first part by letting agencies make the determination of need. Under that construct, OPM would still issue the hiring authority for the agency.

Under a proposed rule set to be published in the Federal Register on Monday, OPM would give up the latter responsibility, as well, enabling agency leadership to make the determination that direct hiring authority is needed and then issue and act on that authority.

However, this authority would not be carte blanche. Agency heads would have to file a justification letter with OPM using a six-page template provided by the department.

For most agencies, the process will require establishing a severe shortage of applicants for IT positions. The Veterans Affairs Department, however, only needs to prove there is a shortage of “highly qualified candidates,” the proposed rule states. 

Veterans Affairs was given direct hiring authority in 2017 as part of the VA Choice and Quality Employment Act, including some IT jobs, and subsequently got approval to fill 15 positions. That language mirrored the broader authority that would be given to all agencies under the new proposed rule—offering authority when there is a “severe shortage of candidates.” The new rule would lower that bar specifically for VA, requiring only a dearth of “highly qualified candidates.”

Appointments made using this authority must be filled for more than one year, with an initial maximum term of four years. Agency leaders have the option to extend that term for a maximum of four additional years.

The rule also states that “no individual hired under these provisions could be transferred to positions that are not IT positions.”