Agencies Get Direct Hire Authority to Combat Opioid Epidemic

On Friday, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) announced an addition to the direct hire authority for agencies working to combat the opioid epidemic. OPM Acting Director Margaret Weichert noted this action builds on the administration's broader effort to combat the epidemic based on an executive order signed in 2017.

The direct hire authority was granted to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and Department of State. Direct hire authorities were expanded to areas of the Department of Justice last week to encourage a more multifaceted approach to the problem.

Weichert explained in the original notice, “This authority will assist these agencies with their staffing needs in response to the outbreak and spread of the opioid crisis and in support of the related Presidential Memorandum issued last October… OPM issued this hiring authority to permit these agencies to recruit and hire staff with the speed required to respond adequately to this public health emergency.”

President Trump labeled the epidemic a public health emergency in 2017 after signing the memorandum Combating the National Drug and Opioid Crisis.

As the memo notes, “Individuals, families, and communities across the United States continue to be devastated by an unprecedented epidemic of drug abuse and overdose, including of prescription opioids, heroin, and illicit synthetic opioids. Last year, we lost at least 64,000 of our fellow Americans to drug overdose, primarily from opioids. This is an increase of approximately 12,000 people over the year before and more than ever recorded in United States history.”

The memo calls on agencies to “exercise all appropriate emergency authorities, as well as other relevant authorities, to reduce the number of deaths and minimize the devastation the drug demand and opioid crisis inflicts upon American communities.”

Direct hire authorities are often given to agencies by OPM to enable them to circumvent hiring requirements such as competitive rating and ranking, veterans' preference, and numerical rankings to determine the top three candidates.

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