Federal Recruitment White Paper: Problems and Solutions

For the past 15 years, the use of the Competitive Examining Hiring Authority (CEHA), for competitive service positions, has declined from being used more than all other hiring authorities combined, to being used between 25% and 30% of the time. The issues hiring managers have with the CEHA process is that it is taking too long to deliver good candidates or that it delivers poor quality candidates. The CEHA processes practiced by HR staffers and recruiters are not agile enough to attract and select the best and brightest – often taking up to twelve months to fill a vacancy for specialists, and around six months for administrative positions. Out of frustration, hiring managers are often forced to fill vacancies with contractors which drives up agency budgets. And despite at least two other hiring authorities that exclusively hire returned war veterans, who account for just 1% of the population, over 35% of all CEHA appointments today are offered to veterans and other preference eligible candidates. *

While much has been written about why this is, and despite the reforms that have been mandated, federal hiring is still no better. But unlike almost all other analyses, this white paper finds that the problems causing the unacceptably lengthy time-to-hire and the poor candidate quality issues plaguing all agencies have nothing to do with the legal or regulatory framework governing CEHA, but by an absence of any real assessment and examination of a candidate’s skills, and the way in which many federal HR Specialists recognize preference eligibility status within the CEHA recruitment workflow processes.

Our investigations find that during the well-intentioned efforts of federal agencies’ HR to try to speed up the selection process, some of the critical recruitment down-selecting stages like initial screening questions; initial resume evaluation; knowledge and skill assessments for minimal qualifications; and the final examination – are being skipped and joined into one technology assisted self-assessment conducted by the candidates themselves.

The skipping and joining of the recruitment down-selecting stages and allowing candidates to assess themselves fundamentally corrupts the federal CEHA recruiting process. It effectively permits all qualified and unqualified applicants automatic and immediate entry to the “examination” stage of the process. And when the raw scores (of what are too often just simple screening questions) are “transmuted” (as per OPM’s DEU guidelines to scores between 70 and 100), suddenly all unqualified applicants become just as eligible for the position as the best qualified applicant. And whether or not this is then coupled with the rules for preference eligible candidates, CEHA chokes and collapses.

Unfortunately, these federal hiring recruitment practices are widespread and also embedded within agencies’ automated hiring technologies – literally making it a systemic problem. In the absence of any real skills assessment process prior to the examination (which is also often absent in the down-selection process), too many unqualified preference eligible candidates become “certified” for the position by HR and served up to the hiring managers for selection. So, instead of speeding the process up, the embedded systemic shortcuts pollute and corrupt the process with unqualified applicants to the point of either slowing the hiring process down or stopping it completely or for it to be restarted again.

While initially applied to the CEHA, these shortcuts are often duplicated by federal staffers under other hiring authorities – detrimentally effecting the time-to-hire and quality of candidates applying for Excepted Service and Senior Executive Service positions as well. The practice also has a negative effect harming the general reputation of many well-qualified war veterans, who are mistakenly perceived as the cause of the problems and suffer prejudice in the workplace.

The problems in federal hiring are not just with the endemic habit of skipping and joining recruitment workflows or its enablement by agencies’ automated hiring technologies. The reluctance of HR to be actively involved in the screening and evaluation of applicants is equally matched by the reluctance of agency leadership and line managers to involve themselves and their teams in ensuring that the screening, evaluation and examination processes required in the selection process is done in accordance with the law and regulation. This white paper shows that participation of the hiring line managers is trending down. Both HR and the hiring line manager are losing control of each other in the recruitment process.

But the more serious implications of skipping or joining the legal and regulated separate recruitment steps in the federal CEHA hiring process is that it potentially exposes the government to a much wider legal liability in defending hiring decisions. When the CEHA workflow processes are not followed all applicants have cause to question federal CEHA hiring practices and file suit – not just those who may feel their preference eligibility status was overlooked or used to prejudice them.

The Solutions: Arresting and fixing the federal hiring process requires immediate political attention. It demands the uncompromising support and engagement of agency leaders and line managers. And for the short term at least, it requires ready and willing HCM industry partners.

Toward taking the first correctional steps this white paper includes four interim action items the executives of federal agencies must collectively pursue. These include:

  1. Creating a Chief Recruitment Officer position. Recruiting professional specialist RECRUITERS into positions physically seated among management and staff of divisions, bureaus and offices.
  2. Optimizing, reconfiguring, or replacing the old automated hiring technologies used for CEHA hiring so as to prevent skipping and joining the legally deliberate separated recruitment screening, evaluations and examining steps in CEHA hiring.
  3. Developing commercial partnerships with two or three recruitment process outsourcing (RPO) firms to fill mission-critical vacancies with contractors and permanent (direct-hire) personnel.
  4. Training of all existing HR Specialists involved in staffing in the arts and sciences of recruitment.
  5. The white paper also includes Plans of Action checklists for the President, Congress & OPM.


* Please note that all evidence, statements, claims and statistics cited above are sourced or referenced within the body of this white paper.

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