Weichert unveils federal IT, cyber direct hire authority days into OPM tenure

Margaret Weichert speaks Aug. 21, 2018, at FedTalks in Washington, D.C. (FedScoop)

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Margaret Weichert may be new to the Office of Personnel Management, but she’s wasting no time advancing the agency’s administration-driven workforce reforms.

Weichert, who was named acting OPM director last week after the abrupt departure of Jeff Pon, unveiled the agency’s plans to offer direct hire authority for IT, cybersecurity and STEM jobs within the federal government during a Thursday media roundtable.

Dating back to Pon’s start at OPM, the new authorities have been heralded as key initiatives to help reduce critical technology skills gaps in the federal workforce. Weichert called them an important first step in the White House’s plan to overhaul the government’s technology, data and talent management infrastructure.

“I think over time, there will be a host and a portfolio of changes that we are going to recommend,” she said. “I think it’s really important for us to acknowledge that all of the original components of Title 5 and updates to it since then were well-intentioned, but layers and years of statute and added regulation have made it very complex and very cumbersome to operate very nimbly and agilely in the 21st century.”

The IT and cyber direct hiring authority will seek to streamline how agencies can onboard professionals more efficiently into federal service, with an emphasis on network operation, information assurance, military, diplomacy and intelligence mission skills related to the government’s information infrastructure.

The STEM authority will center on jobs in engineering; biological sciences; physical science; math, statistics and actuarial sciences; and economics to help agencies infuse new talent into their ranks quickly.

Officials said the STEM  direct hiring authority should be finalized and available to agencies by the end of next week. The cyber and IT authority, on the other hand, will require a proposed regulatory change. However, officials said Weichert will begin implementing portions of the authority shortly.

The president’s pay agent — the federal salary-setting triumvirate of OPM, Office of Management and Budget, and the Department of Labor — has the statutory authority to establish alternative compensation systems outside the General Schedule, and OPM officials said Thursday that the group has formed an interagency committee to discuss crafting new competency-based pay systems for three to five additional occupations by spring 2019.

The moves come on the heels of the Civil Service Reform Act’s 40th anniversary, which agency officials noted was the last substantive change to the federal workforce’s structure. To modernize that structure, officials said the administration will seek bipartisan support in Congress for legislative reform to Title 5, mixed with regulation and guidance changes to make talent management more flexible.

“This is very much a down payment on things to come,” said Mark Reinhold, OPM associate director of employee services. “There are a lot of moving parts right now. We are working toward pursuing objectives in the President’s Management Agenda, looking at things that we can do administratively, but also, this is part of a broader effort for larger reforms. So I think that we can leave that teaser with you that there’s more to come.”

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cyber workforce strategy, IT workforce, Margaret Weichert, Office of Personnel Management, STEM