OPM Requests Legislative Reforms to Probationary Periods, Hiring Practices

In a letter sent to the Speaker of the House and the Vice President in April but reported last week, Acting Director of the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) Margaret Weichert requested legislation reforming the hiring process and probationary periods for the federal workforce. Weichert’s request included legislative language Congress could use as a baseline for reforms.

In the letter, Weichert highlighted the need for additional tools and flexibilities for agencies to improve the recruitment and development of talent.

Among the proposed reforms are an amendment to the current expedited hiring authority for post-secondary students, changes to streamlining cause and procedure for adverse actions based on efficiency of the service, and reforms to the eligibility of employees in time-limited appointments to compete for permanent positions.

Expedited hiring authority for post-secondary students was secured by agencies last year, but a mandate in the National Defense Authorization Act of 2019 capped the number of interns agencies were able to hire based on the number of students hired in the previous year.

The proposal explained, “Basing the cap on hires made during the previous years, as in the current statute, could produce unintended consequences. An agency that reduces its student hiring or one that is unable to hire students during a particular year may not be able to use this authority in subsequent years. Under such circumstances, the cap is based on the percentage of a very low number of hires or even zero hires, which in effect renders this hiring authority unusable.”

Agencies hired fewer than 4,000 students to positions in fiscal 2018, a far lower figure than the 35,000 interns agencies managed to recruit back in 2010, according to Federal News Network.

The letter also focuses on reforming probationary periods, which are currently set to a max of one year based on the statutory definition of “employee.” OPM proposed changing the definition slightly to allow for longer probationary periods in order to give employees more time to learn the skills of the job before a supervisor has to determine if they are able to effectively complete the job.

“OPM can provide for longer probationary periods under its current authority, but any practical benefit of this authority is constrained by the current statutory definition of "employee", which defines when an individual becomes an employee for purposes of receiving procedural due process right when an agency removes them from the Federal service,” the letter explains. “The proposal would also simplify current statutory language by providing clarity to when an individual is covered by certain due process procedural protections.”

It is unclear if Congress will be taking up these legislative suggestions.

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