OPM directs agencies to hire, administer oath with digital tools

Eleven Clemson University Air Force Reserve Officers’ Training Corps cadets take the oath of office during their commissioning ceremony, May 10, 2017. (U.S. Army Reserve photo by Staff Sgt. Ken Scar)

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While most of the federal government teleworks to fight the spread of the coronavirus, the Office of Personnel Management is asking agencies to temporarily expand their use of video conferencing and e-signature tools to hire and onboard new employees.

Acting OPM Director Michael Rigas issued a memo Tuesday directing agencies to continue executing the oath of office for new employees using remote or virtual options like Skype or FaceTime. It is up to the agency CIOs to determine which tool best fits their workforce, Rigas wrote.

Additionally, hiring officers should require those new employees to sign any necessary documents within three days using electronic signature software — or an image of the signed documents if a better option isn’t available.

This motion will continue “for the duration of the current national emergency or until further notice,” Rigas wrote. When things get back to normal, agencies should appropriately swear those individuals in in-person “to ratify actions taken in the interim by employees who were sworn in virtually,” the memo says.

Once employees are officially hired, there’s also the process of onboarding and training that typically takes place in-person. As long as the coronavirus pandemic continues to impact agencies’ in-person operations, OPM says they should also conduct the onboarding process using “remote electronic capabilities.” Again, it is the CIO’s discretion to pick the most appropriate tool to do that.

Finally, agencies are granted the flexibility to accept I-9 employee eligibility forms electronically. Typically, those forms must be inspected in the presence of the new employee, but OPM and the Department of Homeland Security are letting that slide until normal operations resume.

This guidance comes as OPM has also extended Schedule A authority for excepted service hiring — typically reserved for those with disabilities — across the government to more quickly hire for positions directly related to coronavirus response.

“Agencies may use this authority to fill positions on a temporary basis for up to 1 year as needed in response to, or as a result of, COVID-19,” the guidance says. “Agencies may appoint individuals nationwide, at any grade level.”

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coronavirus, hiring, Michael Rigas, Office of Personnel Management (OPM), telework
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