U.S. departments get direct authority to hire experts who can help fight Zika virus

By on 08/03/2016

Several U.S. departments have been granted the power to hire directly in a bid to recruit needed health, biology and crisis management experts in the fight against the Zika virus.

The United States Office of Personnel Management (OPM) has issued Direct-Hire Authority to the Departments of State; Health and Human Services; and the U.S. Agency for International Development so that they can “quickly hire specialists” who can help fight the Zika outbreak, OPM acting director Beth Cobert wrote in a blog post on March 4.

The hire authority means that departments can hire directly, rather than requiring candidates to go through the full standard federal application process.

It is, Cobert wrote, a “streamlined and expedited hiring process that will allow these agencies to quickly bring on the people they need to immediately address the Zika crisis.”

Among the experts needed at the three departments are medical specialists, nurses, microbiologists and epidemiologists, and emergency management and IT specialists.

All jobs are advertised on USAJOBS.gov.

“As the world confronts the Zika virus, OPM is enabling federal officials to more quickly and efficiently bring on the talented individuals they need to aid in the response,” Cobert wrote.

“Time is critical, and a fast-moving illness like Zika requires an equally fast response. So OPM is contributing to the response by authorizing emergency hiring flexibility for positions crucial to dealing with this crisis.”

Cobert also sent a memo to heads of executive departments and agencies yesterday urging “supervisors and managers to be mindful of the health risks in determining the need for work-related travel to Zika-affected areas” and to instead use “alternate means, such as teleconferencing.”

The World Health Organisation declared the Zika virus a global public health emergency earlier this year.

The infection is suspected of leading to thousands of babies being born with underdeveloped brains.

Some areas have declared a state of emergency, doctors have described it as “a pandemic in progress” and some are even advising women in affected countries to delay getting pregnant.

U.S. president Barak Obama last month asked Congress for around $1.9bn in emergency funding to respond to the Zika virus both domestically and internationally.

“My foremost priority is to protect the health and safety of Americans,” he wrote. “This request supports the necessary steps to fortify our domestic health system, detect and respond to any potential Zika outbreaks at home, and to limit the spread in other countries.”

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See also:

400m people can’t access essential health services, according to report

Mexican health system needs urgent reform, says OECD report

Interview: Una O’Brien, permanent secretary, UK Department of Health

About Winnie Agbonlahor

Winnie is news editor of Global Government Forum. She previously reported for Civil Service World – the trade magazine for senior UK government officials. Originally from Germany, Winnie first came to the UK in 2006 to study a BA in Journalism & Russian at the University of Sheffield. She is bilingual in English and German, and, after spending an academic year abroad in Russia and reporting for the Moscow Times, Winnie also speaks Russian fluently.

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