Senate Hearing Highlights Challenges, Potential Strategies to Federal Hiring

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Senators and Federal representatives spoke about the challenges of and potential solutions to issues in Federal hiring – including in cybersecurity and IT – at a Senate Homeland Security Regulatory Affairs and Federal Management Subcommittee hearing today.

Government Accountability Office (GAO) Strategic Issues Team Director Yvonne Jones emphasized in her opening statement that strategic human capital management has been a GAO high-risk area since 2001, and despite agency efforts to overcome this obstacle, Federal agencies still grapple with skill gaps caused by an insufficient number of staff with critical skills and insufficient workforce planning.

Jones further cited that retirements also leads to lacking skills across agencies and that more than 31 percent of Federal employees would be eligible for retirement within five years of the end of fiscal year 2017.

Given GAO’s findings, Jones touched upon recommendations GAO issued in a report published today, which touched upon ways in which agencies can improve their recruiting and hiring efforts, which include managing the timing of their recruitment so that they recruit continuously and start hiring earlier in the higher education school year.

The recommendations also suggest agencies leverage hiring and pay flexibilities, increase support for an inclusive work environment, encourage rotations and other mobility opportunities, and write user-friendly vacancy announcements.

Along the lines of vacancy announcement clarifications, Sen. Jacky Rosen, D-Nev., cited a March GAO report that found several agencies had miscategorized cyber and IT positions, which she said means agencies “don’t have reliable information for workforce planning.” Rosen asked how the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) has addressed GAO’s findings so far, and Jones responded that OPM guidance has been key in making progress

“I think that OPM would just need to make sure that their guidance to the agencies is very clear and then, if there are any other concerns – for example, about positions which are both IT-related and cybersecurity-related, where there have seemed to be some confusion about the work roles – that OPM work very careful with the agencies,” said Jones.

On the agency front, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Chief Human Capital Officer Angela Bailey said that DHS has made its own strides to address Federal hiring by creating a long-term workforce plan, followed by a “multi-pronged recruiting strategy.” This, along with a new portal that DHS developed to improve the applicant experience, has helped DHS streamline its hiring process.

“[Our strategy] is coupled with an innovative and streamlined hiring process that has seen a 34 percent reduction in time to hire across DHS down to an average of 107 days,” Bailey said.

Bailey further added that she would like Congress to support DHS’s proposed legislation, the DHS Enhanced Hiring Act, to help further the strides the department has made thus far in improving its hiring processes.

“DHS seeks to use this authority in an effort to streamline and simplify the agency’s hiring authorities in a manner that ensures the department is able to expeditiously hire the best qualified candidates for mission-critical positions and sustain our exemplary effort of hiring our veterans,” she said.

Daniel Sitterly, assistant secretary for Human Resources and Administration at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), also said that he would like to see an in-house healthcare education program with the VA, similar to what the Defense Department has, to create a more direct pipeline of future employees.

“[I’d like] to be able to grow our own VA doctors using the Department of Defense’s Uniform Services University,” Siterly said. “We in the Air Force don’t go to the airlines to hire fighter pilots. We train fighter pilots. We shouldn’t in the VA go to private industry to hire private doctors. We should create our own doctors.”

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