Earl Rice

As an HR Staffing and Placement Professional I have to comment on this….like I did the last time a non-Federal Government Staffer came up with this. To start with my Canadian friend, the US system is much more complicated with so many safeguards built into it, you would wonder how we ever get anyone hired.

  1. The hiring processes are governed by Title 5 United States Code for the most part and then Title 38 United States Code for the Veterans Health Administration of the VA. There are some other rules of law (emphasis on law) that govern staffing, but these are the big ones.
  2. The Federal Civil Service is a Merit System, with safeguards to preclude cronyism, nepotism, and all the other “isms” that have no place in the hiring process. Contrary to popular belief, these “isms” are very prevalent in the private sector…what was the private sector survey that stated hiring managers felt that they couldn’t hire the best qualified candidate 75% of the time, but rather were forced to hire the best connected one, either by friendship or family ties. Under a Merit System, it is what you have done and can do, not on who you know. [There were some citations about the CIA having a very nice Facebook and web site…they are NOT a part of the Merit System, so they can more or less do what they want, also there are some other “agencies” that have lost the designation of “Merit System”. Their employees have no status what so ever to apply for other government jobs. And, I know some people on Govloop will cite all sorts of prohibited personnel practices dating 5 and ten years ago. Only an HR Department of very weak spinal construction would allow such…and from what I have seen, it usually catches up with them sooner or later.]
  3. Veterans Preference in the hiring process. By law Veterans get preference, end of statement. I can rattle off some of the expedited hiring initiatives from the past that violated Veterans Preference: Outstanding Scholar Program (late 90s till 2003), Federal Career Intern Program (2003 till 2010), SCEP and STEP (been around a long time but died when FCIP did for the same reasons). The new Pathways Program has Veterans Preference embedded into it, which the other programs didn’t. And God help the Agency that is found to have violated the Veterans Preference requirements in the Pathways program. (I have already been through that when hiring manager wanted to hire a well connected non-Veteran that didn’t make the certificate over a well qualified Veteran, and nipped that one in the bud. You either hire the Vet or no-body, end of statement.)
  4. To change the hiring processes would require changes in the United States Code. That requires the House, Senate, and the President to work in harmony to change the laws. From recent historical evidence, this probably isn’t going to happen.
  5. There is no “great shortage” of applicants for announced positions, quite the contrary, often the system gets bogged down with too many applicants. This is a very real bottle neck and is totally ignored, like the 18 ton elephant sitting on the couch that nobody wants to admit is there. We may think the private sector is beating out the Government, but they have all same issues the government has, and more. And their hiring processes aren’t any better. They like to make us think they are, but they aren’t.
  6. By law, all announced positions that seek applicants from outside their Agency must be posted on USAJOBS.
  7. A person that wants to get a government job that “lives on Facebook, Twitter, and Linkedln” hoping to be successful is a fool. They need to be on USAJOBS. If they are serious, they can even set up USAJOBS to e-mail them every time a job they would be interested in is posted. And as I will state over and over, there is no shortage of applicants, that is a fact, and competition is fierce to say the least.
  8. Once an applicant has the resume and documents saved in USAJOBS, they can apply for any job in less than 5 minutes. They can re-use their resume (actually they can store multiple) and documents for any position they wish to apply for. It may take an hour or two to set it up, but once that is done, there is no burden.

A bit about the hiring process. Under a Merit based system (word MERIT is stressed), there must be some sort of a formal document outlining the scope and nature of the work to be done (can be a Positions Description, Functional Statement, Scope of Practice, etc.). By law this must be a formal written document. Through a very complicated system, this document is classified into a career field and the grade for the position is determined (example GS 201-12 Human Resources Specialist). This sets which qualification standards will be used to grade the applicants. This is all embedded in law and overseen by the Office of Personnel Management and the Merit System Protect Board (MSPB has as much clout in government systems as the Supreme Court does on the law side…what they say goes).

With this as the ground work, a determination must be made of what competencies are required to do the work. This used to be Knowledge Skills and Abilities, but the new “buzz word” is competencies (they are still the same). By law there must be a direct correlation with the Position Description (or other written document). A questionnaire is developed from these to be used in USA Staffing (90% of the government uses USA Staffing) that interfaces perfectly with USAJOBS. USA Staffing builds the announcement you see in USAJOBS. 99% of what you see in an announcement on USAJOBS is there because of legal requirements (either directly from United States Code, or as a result of legal/court decisions, some even going to the Supreme Court).

The announcement is opened (must be open for at least 5 days…in my Agency the Master Agreement with the Union requires it to be open for 3 weeks…another bottleneck, but the LR guys just can’t get this out of the agreement) and the applicants apply. A typical announcement for an IT specialist will have at least 200 applicants if not substantially more (300 or 400). I have had some announcements with over 400 applicants…as stated there is no shortage of applicants these day, of all age groups, which is a sign that the private sector isn’t quite as attractive is everyone seems to make it out to be. The items that are required are based upon the minimum required by law. The resume is used to determine if an applicant meets the minimum requirements to be qualified for the position. This is all based upon level of experience and length of experience as outlined in the specific qualification guide established (legal required) for the career field and grade as compared to the resume or CV. A bullet type resume just doesn’t give enough information to make these [legal] determinations and for them to stand up in court, which is a very important consideration in today’s society. An essay type resume is really needed to have a chance at meeting the requirements (and USAJOBS even has a resume builder built into it, so there is no excuse for not using it, oh and it stores it also for re-use). My Agency requires the submission of an OF 306 Declaration for Federal Employment. The reason on this was too many of the selected applicants had suitability issues where they couldn’t be hired (and this is after the entire staffing process is complete), thus it was decided to request this document first. Another requirement in the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) is the completion of a VA Form for Healthcare Providers. This must be in the application because Title 38 USC states that the applicants must submit this with their application (no wiggle room to get around this). Also in the VHA, if a medical field requires a license or certification, then it is required to submit such with the application. If you don’t have a full and unrestricted license (straight out of 38 USC) to practice medicine, then you don’t qualify for the position, end of statement. And we want to know this up front so we don’t’ waste the selecting officials time. A big plus is, for anyone that has uploaded their documents into USAJOBS, they will be saved so they can be used over and over. Once an applicant has the resume and documents in USAJOBS, they can apply for any job in less than 5 minutes. So, for the applicant, this is extremely streamlined. It takes more than 5 minutes to fill out an application to work at the local corner store.

Rating the applicants in USA Staffing (and this is a bottleneck because of sheer numbers of applicants). You are required to review each document the applicants submit. If an applicant submits 3 resumes, you have to look at each one. Why, because of legal liability. Ergo, you disqualify an applicant because one resume doesn’t show the required level of knowledge and experience to do the work of the position and you don’t look at the other 2. If one of the other resumes does show such and you didn’t look at it, and it hits the inside of a court room, you will lose (and end up paying all sorts of monetary penalties). If you require a document, then you must make sure it is there. And, everyone MUST be treated the same. If one applicant doesn’t submit a required form/document, and you disqualify them, then you must disqualify all that don’t submit that required form/document. If you don’t you have violated Merit Principles….many of which carry criminal penalties, and as the expression used by most HR people, “I’m not going to jail for anybody”. You must do this process for each and every applicant. You must also determine which documents can be sent to the hiring managers and which can’t because of Personal Identifiable Information is on them (i.e. SSN, DOB, etc.). Also, thrown on top of this is the requirement to apply Veterans. There are different categories of Veterans Preference, such as 30% or more disabled, 10-20% Disabled, Purple Heart Recipients, Served during a time of conflict, etc. And getting this right is a glass ball that just can’t be dropped. So now you go through each applicant’s application and review each and every document and determine their qualifications. Remember, this is all required by law, and to get around this the laws would have to be changed by the House, Senate, and signed off on by the President. Rating each applicant can take from 5 to 10 minutes (depending on if the network cooperates or is running slow it could take longer). For 250 applicants, that would be roughly 33 hours of work (a little over 4 days roughly). But staffing specialist do more than just staffing, they also do the day to day personnel actions and advisement that keep a government agencies running. Thus the 4 days roughly will be drawn out to at least 5, usually more like 7 or 8 work days (a week and a half in normal time). After all of this is done, and only after this is done, then certificates of eligible are constructed and sent to the hiring manager and interviewers (this is also done electronically in USA Staffing). Constructing the certificates, though not a bottle neck, is an intricate process depending on what rules of laws apply. An example is if an announcement is open to “All US Citizens”, and there is a large number of qualified Veterans, you don’t even send a certificate with other than Veterans on it. To bypass a Veteran on the list quite often requires OPM approval, which if you have already determine they were qualified, if going to be difficult at best to justify they are not qualified. If there are 4 or 5 Vets at the top of the list, the odds of all of them being bypassed is almost zero, so why even bother sending a list with non-Veteran applicants on it to the hiring manager because he won't be able to hire them.

Then the interview process ensues. This could take a week, maybe more depending on the number to be interviewed (though in some agencies this will drag out for months). The people I support usually can do the interviews in a week and have the results to me the same day the selection is made. I will contact the applicant that same day and let them know they were selected and what the “on boarding process” will be, to include a background investigation, physical if required, etc. I can get to this point almost always in less than 60 days (that is unless I have 300 or 400 applicants and the network doesn’t crash).