We the Partnership

Federal HR myth-busting: Using the right hiring authorities to find the talent you need

By Rick Kempinski
November 16, 2021

Recruiting and hiring for open federal positions is an important part of any human capital role. Whether it is entry-level talent coming right out of school or more experienced talent that is needed on a short- or long-term basis, finding the right person can be time consuming and challenging.

Before you begin a new talent search, however, you must decide exactly what hiring authority you will use to staff the open position. Identifying this hiring mechanism can be challenging, especially if your agency has not previously used a particular authority. While agencies have made increasing use of the direct hire authority—and a handful of other authorities as well—to bring on new staff, they often overlook other options.

Myth: I don’t have the correct hiring authority to get the people my agency needs.
 
Reality: The Office of Personnel Management and Congress may have already delegated to you the authorities you need.

According to a 2016 Government Accountability Office report, agencies used a total of 105 hiring authorities to fill more than 196,000 new appointments in fiscal year 2014. However, agencies filled 91% of these positions using only 20 hiring authorities.

The report notes that OPM officials are unsure as to whether agencies know the other authorities available to them, or whether they have tried using those authorities and found only 20 to be the most effective for bringing on new talent. A full list of hiring authorities can be found on the OPM website.

Using different types of direct hiring authorities

Agencies also have the option to use different forms of the direct hire authority. Below are three examples showing how agencies could make creative use of direct hiring to fill their critical talent needs.

  1. Fellowship Programs. Under Schedule A(r), federal agencies can use fellowships for direct hire purposes. Programs such as the American Association for the Advancement of Science and Technology Policy Fellowship and the Cybersecurity Talent Initiative are two examples of fellowship programs using this type of direct hire authority.  
  2. Intergovernmental Personnel Act. The Intergovernmental Personnel Act Mobility Program allows individuals from academia, nonprofit organizations, state, local and tribal government, federally funded research and development centers, and other eligible organizations to work in a federal agency for up to two years. Recently, the Partnership for Public Service launched the IPA Talent Exchange to help agencies better use this hiring method.
  3. Intermittent employment. Occasionally, agencies have had opportunities to hire talent with specific skills based on the needs of the federal government. During COVID-19, for example, the Small Business Administration used temporary direct hire authority to bring on new staff that helped quickly distribute loans to small businesses. At other times, agencies have been able to more easily hire candidates skilled in areas like cybersecurity and IT.

Tips for success

It is likely that some offices at your agency already use these time-tested authorities to solve hiring challenges. We recommend that you try to partner with that office to develop your own hiring program. Building on existing programs—as opposed to launching new ones—is often more efficient and reliable, and saves taxpayer dollars.

If you are new to hiring in the federal government, we recommend that you start by asking your chief human capital officer about the hiring programs that work well. Be sure to ask questions like, “How is the agency satisfying its largest hiring needs outside the Washington, D.C., area?” and “Which agencies have recently led a hiring turnaround and are looking for a federal HR partner like you to expand the program?”

Answering these questions may lead you to great talent that you can onboard quickly to meet your needs.

To learn about another federal HR myth, read our blog post on managers’ options for compensating high-performing employees.


Rick Kempinski

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