Senate Hearing on Federal Hiring

The Senate Federal Management Subcommittee held a hearing on the federal hiring process and what changes are needed to improve managers’ recruitment, retention, and time to hire efforts.

Seal of the United States Senate
Seal of the United States Senate

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Subcommittee on Regulatory Affairs and Federal Management held a hearing entitled, “Examining Federal Managers’ Role in Hiring.” Representatives from the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and the Department of Commerce testified and Senators James Lankford (Chairman, R-OK), Heidi Heitkamp (Ranking Member, D-ND), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Steve Daines (R-MT), Kamala Harris (D-CA), and Tom Carper (D-DE) were in attendance.

Opening the hearing, Chairman Lankford stressed his concern over the ‘hiring crisis’ in the federal government and stated that it takes too long to fill vacancies left by a growing number of retiring federal employees. To that point, the government-wide average time to hire a new federal employee has increased from 90 days in 2013 to 105.8 days in 2017. Senator Daines went further, stating that the best qualified candidates do not have 105 days to wait around for a federal job offer as they have likely received several job offers. Rather, due to the delays in hiring, the federal government is left to select from lesser qualified candidates. Senator Daines also stressed the importance of quality hiring and the ability to fire poor performers. He also advocated for rating employees against each other.

Training programs for supervisors as well as human resources professionals was also discussed. Senator Heitkamp announced that she is working with Senator Lankford on a supervisor training bill and questioned witnesses about developing soft skills for managers.

Senator Heitkamp also took the opportunity to talk about the adverse impact the President’s Fiscal Year 2019 Budget Request would have on hiring and recruitment because the proposed cuts in pay, retirement benefits, health care benefits, and workers’ compensation benefits along with the reduction in collective bargaining and due process rights treat federal employees unfairly.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) patch with the seal of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security
U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) patch

Regarding Customs and Border Protection (CBP), FDA’s regulatory partner agency for imported products, Senator Daines asked DHS about CBP Officer retention issues at the Sweetgrass Port of Entry in Montana and stressed the importance of hiring locally. DHS agreed, but also noted the importance of having CBP Officers with diverse backgrounds that represent all of America. Senator Harris questioned the hiring of a large number of Border Patrol Agents and ICE employees and whether there are any workforce models and/or assessments completed that demonstrate the need for the increased hiring. DHS said that they have been done but are being modified as things change. Senator Harris asked for copies to be provided to the committee.

In closing, Chairman Lankford asked each of the witnesses for one idea to improve the speed of the hiring process. DHS said that the federal government needs to get away from the laborious rating and ranking of thousands of applicants and instead be able to provide tentative job offers on the spot, similar to direct hire authority, which could knock six weeks off the time to hire and urged its adoption. Chairman Lankford has previously suggested that each agency be given broad hiring authority, similar to direct hire authority, with a periodic check to ensure that agencies are not engaged in discriminatory practices and that veterans are receiving jobs. He then asked why agencies cannot do that, and OPM stressed that any such changes be looked at holistically to ensure that other equities in the federal hiring process, such as honoring the service of military veterans, are considered.

NTEU supports efforts to improve the time to hire and the federal hiring process in general. However, it is important that key elements remain: public notice, protections for veterans, and protections from discrimination, retaliation, and political favoritism.

NTEU will continue to monitor Congressional activity on this issue and what may develop when the President releases his management agenda later this month.