OPM's focus in hiring reform shifting from speed to quality

Wednesday - 3/26/2014, 4:54pm EDT

Office of Personnel Management Director Katherine Archuleta says agencies will continue to support an Obama administration initiative to speed the once sluggish federal hiring process.

But OPM is making tweaks to how agencies report time-to-hire data, according to a March 10 memo Archuleta sent to agency chief human capital officers posted to the CHCO Council website last week.

Starting this year, agencies will no longer be required to report the percentage of new hires completed in under 80 days as mandated in a 2010 OPM roadmap to improve the hiring process. Agencies will still report the average number of days a new hire takes.

In addition, OPM has stopped making annual governmentwide time-to-hire data readily available in 2012 and did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

But experts who spoke to Federal News Radio say they don't think OPM is giving up on the idea of improving the federal hiring process.

Instead, they say, it appears OPM may be shifting its focus to measuring the quality of new federal hires.

Too much of a focus on speed?

The 80-day hiring target was an admirable goal to strive for, John Palguta, vice president of policy at the Partnership for Public Service, told Federal News Radio. And it had the benefit of being easily quantifiable.

But it has its limits.

"You don't want to over-focus on time to the detriment of quality," Palguta said. "You want both."

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When OPM rolled out its End-to-End Hiring Roadmap in 2010 to meet the mandates of an Obama administration initiative on hiring reform, it took agencies an average of 120 days to fill an open position.

That fell to an average of 105 days by the end of that year. For fiscal 2011, OPM retooled its process for analyzing time-to-hire data opting for a weighted average. Using that formula, time to hire fell to 93 days, according to statistics available on an archived page of Performance.gov that were not otherwise published by OPM. In fiscal 2012, time to hire dropped to 87 days under the weighted formula.

But Jeff Neal, former CHCO at the Homeland Security Department and now at ICF International, said time-to-hire data, alone, is a "fairly crude method" of evaluating the effectiveness of federal hiring.

"If your metric is to get a breathing live body on board as quickly as possible, you could design a system that could do that fairly easily," he told Federal News Radio.

But managers want quality hires.

"The important thing is, do you have the right talent, not do you have it quickly enough," he said.

OPM metrics also tracking quality

OPM appears to be taking that message to heart. The agency has made increasing manager satisfaction with the hiring process one of its priority goals for this year. The agency is also tracking applicant satisfaction with the process on a number of factors, including agency responsiveness — not just speed.

"The consensus in the HR community seems to be, 'Let's focus on the bigger picture,'" Palguta said.

Still, even on those more nuanced measures, agencies have room for improvement.

OPM's goals sought to have manager satisfaction reach at least 8.3 on a 10-point scale last year. But manager satisfaction, measured quarterly, never reached higher than 7.68, according to the agency's annual performance report.

The percentage of job applicants indicating their satisfaction with the federal hiring process, which has held steady at about 70 percent over the past few years, also dipped last year to 67 percent. That was well below OPM's goal of 74 percent.

In the annual report, OPM said its satisfaction goal proved to be a "demanding target" given the "recent challenges with government hiring," such as hiring freezes and agency furloughs.

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