Roundtable: hiring should be about people

Wednesday - 4/14/2010, 11:05am EDT

David Ellwood, Dean, Harvard Kennedy School

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By Suzanne Kubota
Senior Internet Editor
FederalNewsRadio.com

At a recent roundtable titled "Inspiring Federal Service", moderator David Ellwood, dean of Harvard's Kennedy School said "this is a once in a generation moment" to address the problems that effect the recruitment and hiring of federal workers.

At that table were the likes of "representatives from the White House, several cabinet agencies, Congress, government employee organizations, and from the private, non-profit and academic sectors. Those at the table included House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD); former U.S. Senator Paul Sarbanes (D-MD); OMB Director John Berry; and John Gage, president of the American Federation of Government Employees. Senior executives from General Electric, Google, IBM, McKinsey and Company, and Teach for America also participated," according to a press release from Harvard.

Ellwood told Federal News Radio the assembled were able to come up with the answer to reforming the federal hiring process. "The single most important thing," said Ellwood, "is to really care at the most senior levels."

Beyond that, "certainly technology can be helpful, but even the people from Google and others didn't seem to suggest that technology by itself was the answer," he said. ""It's more of a tool to try and find a way to select people."

The biggest difference between public and private sector hiring is how long it takes, said Ellwood. "Great private sector firms have the entire thing done... in 70, 80, 90 days. The federal government can take a year or more. That kind of thing is a guaranteed way to take your best people and discourage them."

While the current federal hiring system was developed over time and intended to discourage nepotism, overly political appointments, and the like, "the effect of it was to discourage not only the bad, but the good."

By taking best practices, said Ellwood, all that can be changed.

There are parts of the government, he said, where people care deeply about making the hiring system work. By looking at the Secret Service or part of Veterans Affairs, he said, "you can turn this around. You can make the system work and work well. What it takes though is high level energy and a real desire to make it work."

What was most encouraging about the discussion according to Ellwood, was that "everyone around the table believed we need to do a better job and everyone was willing to work together. That's why I'm really optimistic we can make some real progress during the coming year."

For a previous discussion with David Ellwood on the Daily Debrief, click here.

And for more about reforming the federal process from Federal News Radio as part of our series HReinvented, click here