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How to use a proven FBI model to keep mission-critical positions filled

By Parker Schaffel | November 24, 2020

When an employee leaves a job, it can take months to recruit and hire a replacement. And those lengthy vacancies can overwhelm staff and jeopardize an agency’s ability to deliver on its mission. Agencies can look to an FBI model to minimize how long positions remain unfilled by forecasting attrition and recruiting before a position becomes vacant.  

How the FBI forecasts job vacancies  

In December 2019, the FBI’s human resources team created a model that forecasts vacancies up to nine months out in every occupation. The model estimates how many people are likely to leave, how long it takes to bring a new employee on board, and what percentage of job offers leads to hiring a new employee. 

That information helps the bureau understand when it should start recruiting new talent and how many offers it needs to ensure it remains fully staffed. An FBI field office supervisor, for example, can check the model to see how many IT specialist positions are vacant and how many are projected to be vacant in three, six and nine months. If the model shows one vacancy now, but none in three months, it signals there are candidates completing background investigations, and the position is on its way to being filled. 

However, if the model shows vacancies in six or nine months, it tells the manager there aren’t enough candidates in the pipeline and to begin the hiring process, given how long the background investigation can take. 

The model also considers the percentage of candidates who don’t successfully pass the background investigation, helping supervisors understand how many people they need to interview and how many provisional offers they need to make to fill a position. 

Early skepticism about the model 

When the FBI’s human resources team rolled out the model, offices were slow to adopt it and didn’t always trust what it was telling them. “We put it out there and the field offices did not know how to use it,” said Peter Sursi, senior executive for recruitment and hiring at the FBI. “Hiring ahead of attrition was so alien to everybody’s experience and everything they had ever been told.” 

Gradually, the HR team gained buy-in by making the model more user-friendly, teaching the field offices how to use it, and demonstrating how it can help them keep their mission-critical positions filled—a longstanding challenge for the FBI. 

“Now divisions can look at their nine-month attrition forecast and say, ‘Well, I don’t have a vacancy now, but the model says that I’m going to need a nurse and two evidence techs and three IT specialists in nine months,” Sursi said. “So, let me conduct interviews and put those candidates in background now, and they should be landing right about the time those vacancies are being realized.” 

Use the FBI’s model to implement your own solution 

The FBI’s attrition model shows that, while it might take time for staff to buy into new innovative hiring practices, there is always room to improve how agencies find, acquire and develop new talent.  

For more information on federal talent acquisition, read the report: A Time for Talent: Improving Federal Recruiting and Hiring


Parker Schaffel