MSPB Issues Memo to Build on OPM Hiring Improvement Memos

The Office of Policy and Evaluation at the Merit System Protection Board (MSPB) has issued an October 2019 memo to build upon the Office of Personnel Management’s hiring improvement initiatives. The OPM memo provided agencies with advice on ways to better assess applicant qualifications by utilizing subject matter experts. The MSPB echoed these policy changes and provided agencies with additional steps to improve their workforce.

The MSPB encouraged agencies to move away from the “prior emphasis on fast and cheaper” and toward being “better” by:

  1. Getting the right people involved from the beginning;
  2. Doing a good job of defining job qualifications;
  3. Using valid assessments to identify the applicants most likely to have those qualifications; and
  4. Making those assessments easily accessible to all Federal agencies.

For the first point, MSPB agreed with OPM’s focus on involving subject matter experts (SME) in the hiring process, rather than relying on human resources (HR) personnel. The MSPB acknowledged that this requires a “culture change” within agencies.

“HR will need to learn how to better partner with hiring organizations to exchange information and discuss options available for the hiring process. SMEs and hiring officials will need to understand that their involvement is an important part of their own job responsibilities and will directly reflect on the quality of their workforce—particularly as jobs become more knowledge based and technical in nature. Therefore, agencies will need to increase partnerships, communication, strategic thinking, and training to achieve this objective,” the memo noted.

For the second point, the MSPB cautioned against using generic qualification standards and specialized experience definitions for the competitive hiring process. Instead, the memo recommended agencies dedicate more focus and attention to identifying, describing, and measuring the qualifications needed for a job.

For the third point, the MSPB noted the importance of a good assessment model.

“Higher quality assessments measure how well applicants are likely to perform tasks related to the job. These assessments include work samples, job simulations, and situational judgment tests. Unfortunately, it takes time and expertise to develop those kinds of assessments, particularly when agencies employ people in a large number of occupations and grade levels,” the memo explained.

Unfortunately, agencies often lack the resources to make these high-quality assessments. The board recommended looking to the 2018 MSPB Perspectives for advice on how to improve assessments with limited resources.

For the final point, MSPB recommended Congress and OPM assist agencies in making stronger assessments accessible.

“It is, of course, easy to tell agencies to develop better assessments. Unfortunately, many agencies have neither the staff nor the money to do so. MSPB thinks this is where OPM and Congress can help,” the memo explained.

Still, the MSPB acknowledged that while congressional and OPM action is underway, change is still possible, yet “Improving applicant assessment is easier said than done. Fortunately, addressing this issue does not require changes to laws or regulations. Meaningful improvement in hiring is within each agency’s ability to implement, given the appropriate resources.”

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