The DoD budget measure now signed into law officially rings the death knell for the “rule of three,” at one time the dominant policy agencies used when hiring into competitive service jobs.

Under the rule of three, candidates were ranked numerically and the top three were referred to the hiring manager who had to choose from among them. That was largely–although not completely–replaced by the Obama administration in response to criticisms that limiting the number to three sometimes excluded candidates who would be the best fit for the job even though they had not made that cutoff on points. A 2010 order made “category rating” the default hiring system, in which the agency assesses candidates against job-related criteria and then places candidates into categories and the hiring manager can choose from among all those in the top category.


The defense measure does not go into detail on the changes it contains but the intent was explained in the original proposal sent by OPM to Capitol Hill early this year:

“This proposal would eliminate the ‘rule of three’ and give agencies authority to define the number of candidates to be considered. By using a cutoff score or similar mechanism, the proposal would increase agencies’ flexibility when narrowing the qualified applicant pool for a federal position(s) in order to determine the most qualified ‘top candidates.’

More on Hiring Policies for Federal Government Jobs at ask.FEDweek.com

“This flexibility would preserve merit-based hiring and veterans’ preference, while giving hiring managers access to a larger pool of well-qualified candidates and providing greater choice to select from well-qualified candidates based on numerical ranking/assessment scores. The proposal would not change veterans’ preference – veterans would still be granted preference points and would continue to be entitled to selection preference over a non-veteran candidate with the same or lower score,” it said.

The measure does specify, however, that if such a system is used, at least three candidates must be referred to the hiring manager for consideration.