Federal Manager's Daily Report

OPM has issued final rules allowing individual agencies to determine, subject to OPM review, whether they are experiencing a “severe shortage of candidates or a critical hiring” need for certain IT positions, which in turn would allow them to use direct-hire procedures to fill vacancies.

The final rule, which carries out part of a 2018 executive order, is intended to enable agencies “to hire urgently needed IT professionals more quickly” in the information technology management series, GS-2210, OPM said in a Federal Register notice. It applies to all agencies except DoD, which already has separate authority; further, VA must determine that it has a severe shortage of “highly qualified” candidates or a critical hiring need.

Direct hire authority has been used increasingly in recent years as a short-cut procedure for filling high-demand positions such as IT, with new grants of authority coming not only from the executive order but also from legislation. That has raised concerns about the impact on merit principles, as well as on veterans, since veterans preference does not apply in direct hire, which were reflected in comments to the rule after it was first proposed.

OPM responded that “as a general matter, Congress has determined that in cases where a severe shortage or critical hiring need exists, direct hire authority is justified as a legitimate exception from the normal rules of competitive hiring. The use of the authority is subject to merit system principles, which include requirements that selection and advancement be determined solely on the basis of relative ability, knowledge and skills, regardless of the hiring authority used to fill a position.”

OPM added that under the policy, once an agency makes a determination, it must provide a description of the reasons to OPM, which may ask for the underlying documents at any time, will monitor its use, and may modify or cancel it if OPM determines that the basis on which it was granted no longer exists or that agency has misused the authority. OPM also said it will update its guidance on using direct hire authority “with an emphasis to hiring managers and human resources personnel that when using DHA agencies are required to employ an objective selection process, such as selecting qualified candidates (including individuals entitled to veterans’ preference) as they are found.”

Use of the authority is not mandatory for hiring into the affected positions, it added, saying that “each agency must decide independently whether its particular circumstances justify the need for a DHA in accordance with the statutory and regulatory criteria required for an approval.”