USAJobs must evolve to reflect new hiring powers — HR experts

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Federal HR experts hope the federal government’s job board USAJobs.gov will soon evolve to use provisions in a new law that allow agencies to share information on qualified applicants and streamline hiring. 

The Competitive Service Act, signed into law in March, allows agencies to share the resumes of qualified applicants with others filling similar positions, operating more as a unified government during hiring rather than a federated collection of separate employers. 

Currently, applicants visiting USAJobs.gov apply for one job at a time with one agency, and the process essentially begins and ends in that siloed space. A roundtable panel Tuesday advocated a change — that applicants deemed qualified shouldn’t have to re-endure the laborious screening process to apply for other similar jobs, and agencies shouldn’t have to repeat the process and wait for applicants to be re-evaluated. 

“A better system would be if [someone] who applied for this job didn’t get that job but was qualified for it, someone else got it, other agencies should be able immediately to hire that person for the same kind of job,” said Max Stier, president and CEO of the Partnership for Public Service. “That’s what the Competitive Services Act permits. For the first time, you’ve now given the agencies a new tool that allows them to think holistically about talent.”

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee’s Subcommittee on Regulatory Affairs and Federal Management gathered Stier and his colleagues — Linda Brooks Rix, president and co-CEO of Avue Technologies Corp., and Mark Reinhold, chief human capital officer with the Office of Personnel Management — to explore ways to improve the USAJobs.gov website and better serve the 11 million or so Americans who have filed applications using the portal. 

The group, as well as the few subcommittee lawmakers present, immediately focused in on the need to update the site’s digital capabilities with the new authorities of the Competitive Services Act. 

“There is a finite number of people who want to work for the federal government in this country,” said Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D. 

“And it seems to me that … there should be some way to maintain the database of 22 million applications and skill sets. To me this is a little bit of a catch-up deal. In the era of big data, when we know we can do tons of sorts, there are tons of data points, why aren’t we doing something” like that?

“That should be the beauty of USAJobs,” she added. “They should be able to expedite their hiring by looking at who’s applied.”

Rix agreed: “You should have one posting. You should always be taking in applications.”

OPM has been working on a variety of tools — such as a “resume mining flexibility” and an “agency talent portal,” which gives agencies a better idea of who an applicant is — Reinhold said. But when asked if there’s a USAJobs function that allows the sharing of applicant information for similar listings across government, he said there’s not. 

“As we look ahead toward implementing the Competitive Services Act, one of the things that [applicants] will be able to do is say ‘Yeah, I’d like to be considered for other similar jobs,’” he said. 

But beforehand, OPM will likely have to take the accountability for implementing regulations around the new law, Reinhold explained, because there will be a large shift in the culture around hiring. 

“My manager comes to me with a need, and my knee-jerk reaction is ‘Let me post the job announcement,'” he said. “My reaction should be, ‘Gee, why don’t I take a look and see what else is out there. Who’s already recruited for this type of position.’”

This issue with the federal workforce is not necessarily agencies’ inability to attract qualified applicants, Stier said, but rather its inability to hire a pool of applicants that is already right there in front of agencies.

“The reality is there’s more talent interested in federal jobs than the government actually needs,” he said. “The bigger problem is the government is not doing a good job at actually pulling in the right talent for those jobs. I’m not suggesting that government shouldn’t be recruiting. I think it’d be great if more talented people wanted to come into the federal government. But that is a secondary problem relative to the primary one in government’s inability to access the right talent that it needs that’s already available to it.”  

It’s a new world, Stier said. “Anyone, anywhere can apply for a job” on the Web. “That’s a good and challenging thing. The challenge is you get a ton of resumes, and the process can get more complicated. But we need a system that actually accommodates for that change.”    

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Agencies, Congress, Government IT News, Office of Personnel Management (OPM), Senate, workforce
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