Skills-based recruitment reforms postponed in US federal government

By on 10/01/2022 | Updated on 10/01/2022
OPM director Kiran Ahuja has postponed the implementation of Trump-era mandate for the second time since it was signed in June 2020. Photo by Paul Chang, via Wikimedia Commons

The US federal government’s Office of Personnel Management (OPM) has said it will postpone the implementation of an executive order signed by ex-president Donald Trump to radically alter the federal hiring process.

The order requires US government agencies to hire candidates based on skills and expertise in fields relevant to a position, rather than their educational qualifications or job experience. It follows a series of successful pilot schemes kickstarted by US Digital Service to streamline the hiring process.

The plan was initially postponed until the end of 2021 due to concerns agencies would not meet the original deadline, but this has now been extended again. The memo said agencies would need to comply with the order in at least 50% of new job applications by 30 May 2022, while full compliance would be expected by the end of the year. It said quarterly meetings would be held throughout the year to track agencies’ progress.

“In order to continue to partner with agencies and facilitate the requirements outlined in the [executive order], I am authorising an additional extension for the implementation of the above requirements, director of OPM Kiran Ahuja said to staff in a recent memo. “This additional time should allow you to fully implement your agency assessment strategies..

She added that the OPM was finalising the guidance to accompany the order, which would be issued soon.

Trump’s changes to federal firing rules dropped

While one of Trump’s former executive orders has been postponed, another aimed at easing the federal discipline and firing process is due to be rescinded under further plans by OPM.

Signed in 2018, the edict initially led OPM to issue regulations that made it harder for federal workers to challenge allegations of misconduct, reach settlements with employers, and improve job performance. It was one of a trifecta of orders signed that year that were intended to curb federal staff protections and union powers as part of the then-president’s pledges to shrink federal bureaucracy.

A court judgment blocking the implementation of all three in August 2018 was later overturned, prompting unions to take legal action. In 2020, the National Federation of Federal Employees  criticised Trump’s attempts to undermine federal employee rights and union power, saying they had compromised workers’ safety during the COVID-19 pandemic.

President Joe Biden signed a counter order in January last year to revoke Trump’s mandate, vowing instead to protect the federal workforce and to ensure the federal government was considered a “model employer”. Towards the end of 2021, the President’s Management Agenda set out clearly the Biden administration’s intention to strengthen unions’ collective bargaining power, and to increase employee engagement across the federal government, and the rule puts elements of this plan into action

About Jack Aldane

Jack is a British journalist, cartoonist and podcaster. He graduated from Heythrop College London in 2009 with a BA in philosophy, before living and working in China for three years as a freelance reporter. After training in financial journalism at City University from 2013 to 2014, Jack worked at Bloomberg and Thomson Reuters before moving into editing magazines on global trade and development finance. Shortly after editing opinion writing for UnHerd, he joined the independent think tank ResPublica, where he led a media campaign to change the health and safety requirements around asbestos in UK public buildings. As host and producer of The Booking Club podcast – a conversation series featuring prominent authors and commentators at their favourite restaurants – Jack continues to engage today’s most distinguished thinkers on the biggest problems pertaining to ideology and power in the 21st century. He joined Global Government Forum as its Senior Staff Writer and Community Co-ordinator in 2021.

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