Human Capital:

Opportunities to Improve Executive Agencies' Hiring Processes

GAO-03-450: Published: May 30, 2003. Publicly Released: Jun 30, 2003.

Additional Materials:

Contact:

Robert N. Goldenkoff
(202) 512-3604
contact@gao.gov

 

Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800
youngc1@gao.gov

Improving the federal hiring process is critical, as the number of new hires is expected to increase substantially. Federal agencies are responsible for their hiring processes, but must generally comply with applicable Office of Personnel Management (OPM) rules and regulations. Congressional requesters asked GAO to identify federal hiring obstacles, provide examples of innovative hiring practices, and identify opportunities for improvement. To address these issues, GAO interviewed the human resources directors in 24 largest departments and agencies, analyzed the hiring practices of five federal executive branch agencies, and reviewed OPM's role in the hiring process.

There is widespread recognition that the current federal hiring process all too often does not meet the needs of agencies in achieving their missions, managers in filling positions with the right talent, and applicants for a timely, efficient, transparent, and merit-based process. Numerous studies over the past decade have noted problems with the federal hiring process. Nearly all of the federal human resource directors from the 24 largest federal agencies told us that it takes too long to hire quality employees. According to data compiled by OPM, the estimated time to fill a competitive service position was typically more than 3 months, with some human resources directors citing examples of hiring delays exceeding 6 months. The competitive hiring process is hampered by inefficient or ineffective practices, including defining a vacant job and pay that is bound by narrow federal classification standards, unclear job announcements, the quality of certain applicant assessment tools, time-consuming panels to evaluate applicants, and the "rule of three" that limits selecting managers choice of candidates. Equally important, agencies need to develop their hiring systems using a strategic and results-oriented approach. GAO studied five agencies that human capital experts identified as having taken steps to improve parts of the hiring process--the U.S. Geological Survey, the Department of the Army, the U.S. Census Bureau, and the Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service and Forest Service. Some of these practices might help agencies across government improve their hiring processes. OPM recognizes that the federal hiring process needs reform and has a major initiative to study the federal hiring process. OPM's efforts will be most effective to the extent to which they help transform agency hiring practices from process focused to mission-focused hiring tools that are more closely integrated into agencies strategic plans.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: GAO's May 30, 2003 report on potential improvements to executive branch agencies' hiring processes recommended that the Office of Personal Management (OPM) review the effectiveness of the Outstanding Scholar Program and the Bilingual/bicultural Program. On November 15, 2007, after conferring with the Department of Justice (DOJ), OPM issued guidance, to agencies, in which DOJ concurred, advising strongly against the further use of either the Outstanding Scholar Program or the Bilingual/Bicultural Program on the grounds that there was no continuing mandate to use these hiring authorities. Moreover, OPM ceased the collection of information concerning both of these programs.

    Recommendation: OPM's hiring initiatives are moving in the direction that will help agencies improve their hiring processes. OPM can assist agencies by helping the agencies to improve and streamline their hiring processes by taking a comprehensive and strategic approach. Consistent with its current efforts to improve the federal hiring process, OPM needs to take a number of specific actions to strengthen federal hiring. Accordingly, as a part of its overall hiring initiative, OPM should review the effectiveness of the Outstanding Scholar and Bilingual/Bicultural Luevano Consent Decree hiring authorities.

    Agency Affected: Office of Personnel Management

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In a follow-up report on the federal hiring process that GAO issued in June 2004 (GAO-04-797), GAO concluded that OPM still needed to take further action to address this recommendation. During GAO's follow-up work in September 2005, OPM again acknowledged that assessment tools used by federal agencies generally needed to be reviewed, but commented that agencies themselves are primarily responsible for addressing these issues. Nonetheless, OPM has taken some actions to develop and help agencies develop assessment tools. For example, in January 2007, OPM announced the availability of a Web-based instrument for assessing the skill levels of federal managers, supervisors, and team leaders. In April 2007, OPM announced the availability of a similar Web-based instrument for assessing skills levels related to human capital management. In addition, OPM said that the Center for Talent Services in its Human Resources Products and Services Division has assisted federal agencies with the development and implementation of assessment tools on a cost-reimbursable basis. For example, OPM in 2006 assisted the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency with an assessment process for the selection of candidates into a leadership development program.

    Recommendation: OPM's hiring initiatives are moving in the direction that will help agencies improve their hiring processes. OPM can assist agencies by helping the agencies to improve and streamline their hiring processes by taking a comprehensive and strategic approach. Consistent with its current efforts to improve the federal hiring process, OPM needs to take a number of specific actions to strengthen federal hiring. Accordingly, as a part of its overall hiring initiative, OPM should develop and help agencies develop improved hiring assessment tools.

    Agency Affected: Office of Personnel Management

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In a follow-up report on the federal hiring process that GAO issued in June 2004 (GAO-04-797), GAO concluded that OPM had implemented this recommendation. GAO found that OPM had continued to improve its USAJOBS website to feature a quicker job-search engine, sorting capabilities, and accessibility for disabled users. Other new features of the website included allowing job applicants to create and save application letters and store up to five resumes online, as well as making posted resumes searchable by agency recruiters.

    Recommendation: OPM's hiring initiatives are moving in the direction that will help agencies improve their hiring processes. OPM can assist agencies by helping the agencies to improve and streamline their hiring processes by taking a comprehensive and strategic approach. Consistent with its current efforts to improve the federal hiring process, OPM needs to take a number of specific actions to strengthen federal hiring. Accordingly, as a part of its overall hiring initiative, OPM should continue to assist agencies in making job announcements and Web postings more user friendly and effective.

    Agency Affected: Office of Personnel Management

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In a follow-up report on the federal hiring process that GAO issued in June 2004 (GAO-04-797), GAO concluded that OPM had implemented this recommendation. OPM's draft "Guiding Principles for Civil Service Transformation" document, released in April 2004, presented some significant proposals for changes to the civil service system, which encompassed issues related to the federal job classification process.

    Recommendation: OPM's hiring initiatives are moving in the direction that will help agencies improve their hiring processes. OPM can assist agencies by helping the agencies to improve and streamline their hiring processes by taking a comprehensive and strategic approach. Consistent with its current efforts to improve the federal hiring process, OPM needs to take a number of specific actions to strengthen federal hiring. Accordingly, as a part of its overall hiring initiative, OPM should study how to simplify, streamline, and reform the classification process.

    Agency Affected: Office of Personnel Management

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In a follow-up report on the federal hiring process that GAO issued in June 2004 (GAO-04-797), GAO concluded that OPM had implemented this recommendation. GAO found that OPM had continued to promote the use of automated systems, including the OPM-sponsored system known as USA Staffing. OPM's efforts in this area were demonstrated by its work in providing services to over 40 federal organizations that had contracted with OPM to use USA Staffing. Additionally, OPM worked to develop a new Web-based version of USA Staffing, which would link and automate the recruitment, examining, referral, notification, and selection processes.

    Recommendation: OPM's hiring initiatives are moving in the direction that will help agencies improve their hiring processes. OPM can assist agencies by helping the agencies to improve and streamline their hiring processes by taking a comprehensive and strategic approach. Consistent with its current efforts to improve the federal hiring process, OPM needs to take a number of specific actions to strengthen federal hiring. Accordingly, as a part of its overall hiring initiative, OPM should assist agencies in automating their hiring processes.

    Agency Affected: Office of Personnel Management

 

Explore the full database of GAO's Open Recommendations »

Sep 2, 2014

Jul 15, 2014

Jun 6, 2014

May 8, 2014

Apr 9, 2014

Mar 4, 2014

Jan 29, 2014

Jul 18, 2013

Jul 8, 2013

Apr 16, 2013

Looking for more? Browse all our products here