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OPM's Berry on Changes in the Hiring Process

OPM's Berry on Changes in the Hiring Process

OPM Director John Berry keeps working to improve the government hiring process.

Joe Davidson | The Washington Post via YellowBrix

October 22, 2009

It’s been six months since John Berry took over the Office of Personnel Management. With his appointment, and increased attention provided by President Obama’s White House, federal personnel issues have gained a much greater profile.

More attention, however, doesn’t mean Uncle Sam’s broken hiring system is fixed, or the confusing employee pay and evaluation structure is suddenly sane, or the federal employee health insurance program no longer enrages workers with high rate increases.

But the Obama administration and Congress are giving these issues serious study, sometimes with the big foot of the Office of Management and Budget demanding action by agencies that previously responded lazily to OPM initiatives. At this six-month point, we thought it would be good to get an update from Berry on personnel matters, which at the same time provides a way for a Federal Diary columnist, returning from a month on medical leave, to get caught up.

Berry talked about many more things than we have space to print, but one big item was overhauling the chaotic federal recruitment and hiring process. It’s one of Berry’s top priorities, and he said he expects to announce changes in about a month.

“Some of this is not rocket science,” he said. “It’s getting job announcements written in plain language. Instead of having 75-page job announcements, it’s having two-page or one- or two-page job announcements.” An internal OPM working group has concluded that the government should have a résumé-based system, such as businesses use, rather than the much more complicate procedures that have frustrated many federal applicants.

“That’s going to be a great, new direction,” Berry predicted.

He also wants to create a “shared register” for jobs most often needed by federal agencies. OPM would do all the advance work in selecting a pool of candidates for occupations that are needed in a variety of agencies so all they have to do is “interview and then hire.”

This isn’t a new idea. Linda Springer, an OPM director under President George W. Bush, discussed a similar approach, but it never got off the ground. Now an announcement regarding these and other hiring initiatives is close, Berry promised.

While Berry was upbeat about his hiring plans, he was grim when talking about the increased premiums federal workers have to pay for health and long-term care insurance.

“The 8.8 percent average increase is one I’m not happy with,” he said of health insurance premiums. “I’m going to be working on that pretty hard.”

With the poor economy, “I did not expect a rate increase of this magnitude,” he added.

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