Human Resource Officials Caution Congress Against Hiring Authorities

During a committee hearing before the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee held last week, federal human resource executives urged Congress not to provide agencies with new hiring authorities. The HR professionals argued these authorities complicate a process and are rarely used properly.

During the hearing on improving the federal hiring process, Yvonne Jones, Director of the Strategic Issues Team at the Government Accountability Office (GAO); Angela Bailey, Chief Human Capital Officer (CHCO) at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS); and Daniel Sitterly, Assistant Secretary for Human Resources and Administration at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), spoke about the issues with the current system and were asked about their requests for improving the process.

Bailey explained, “No new hiring authorities: we don’t need anymore. Even with veteran hiring and veterans preference, even for them there are three or four different ways to hire a veteran, and not all are treated the same way within the hiring process… My ask would be that we stop all this nonsense, boil it down, and give me a veteran hiring authority and a hiring authority to hire everyone else. That would take six to eight weeks immediately off the beginning of the hiring process.”

Sitterly argued for a new classification system for federal employees similar to the Title 38 system which governs VA medical personnel.

“As we look at cybersecurity [positions], we’re working with a classification system that’s 70 years old and is basically just a proxy for pay and allowances,” Sitterly said. “Under Title 38, we hire a person . . . according to the specialization they have, the education, experience and talent they have. But under Title 5, we hire to a position. It’s very difficult to recruit for cybersecurity and other shortage fields when using the pay structure we have.”

Sitterly noted that the current system is far too complex to be strategic, saying that it seems that every time a new hiring authority is added an HR specialist needs “to have graduated from law school in order to implement it.”

Lawmakers appeared eager to support these ideas but fearful that adjustments to the current process could disrupt the current merit-based system.

“Your challenge is [under a new system], does everyone have a competitive shot?” Senator James Lankford (R-OK) asked. “Are certain groups going to get more of an opportunity to get in? You talked about recruiting on college campuses or engaging active duty military, but every place you go, some group will say yes, but did my group have an opportunity to engage with this?”

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