The VA has said it has been able to increase hiring during the pandemic due to internal procedural changes and use of alternative hiring authorities, although a union representing much of the department’s workforce has questioned why the department—which long has had vacancies in the range of 50,000—hasn’t been doing that all along.
VA’s Veterans Health Administration hired more than 20,000 employees between March 29 and mid-June, an official told a Senate Veterans Affairs Committee hearing, about 85 percent into permanent positions with the option to convert some of the rest to permanent positions. Even with attrition, the department has a net gain of employees during the current fiscal year of more than 8,000—2.2 percent—with an even larger gain in nursing occupations, where the VA has long-running high vacancy rates.
That was accomplished, he said, by steps including an expedited credentialing process for clinical hires, eliminating a review step for some hires and restructuring pre-employment requirements so that they can be completed after the initial onboarding occurs, allowing new hires to begin work very quickly. He also cited authorities granted from OPM such as expanded direct hire authority, temporary non-competitive appointment authorities and allowing retirees to return to work without a reduction in their annuities.
“We now see that the VA is able to hire when it wants to, so Congress must act and insist that the agency continue to prioritize the filling of these positions . . . It is imperative that VA make the same effort to fill the remaining vacancies across the system with permanent, fulltime professionals.,” the AFGE union said in a statement to the committee.
The union meanwhile challenged the broader use of direct hire authority, saying it often is “used to bypass veterans’ preference and merit promotion consideration of current agency employees” and added that “sadly, we have heard from a number of retirees that VA dropped the ball and did not follow up when they expressed interest” in returning to work.