A while back OPM director John Berry, with concurrence from OMB, submitted a proposal to Congress that would improve the federal hiring process. According to Berry, “We have created an initiative aimed at (1) creating a hiring process that is easy to understand and use, (2) ensuring the right person is in the right job, and (3) hiring supplicants as efficiently as possible.”

To accomplish that, the draft bill was designed to do the following:

• permit agencies to share resumes and select from among candidates that have competed for similar positions in another agency and were determined to be among the best qualified for the job;

• eliminate the “rule of three,” which requires numerical ranking and selection from the top three candidates, and replace it with a cut-off score, above which any of the candidates could be hired;

• address short-term hiring surges by permitting 18-month noncompetitive appointments to meet urgent needs, but without the ability to convert to a permanent, competitive service position;

• enhance the student loan repayment authority by making it more flexible and, therefore, a more effective recruitment and retention tool;

• provide employees the opportunity to work part-time at the end of their careers in order to retain and share institutional knowledge, for which they’d receive a partial annuity in addition to a partial salary.

While the bulk of this intriguing proposal didn’t gain any traction on the Hill, some are being carried out administratively, at least to the extent allowed without a change in law.

There’s no doubt that some of these changes were long overdue. Requiring every agency to screen the same list of candidates and rank them in order to create a top three from which to choose is a labor intensive and often unproductive way to do business. Broadening the number of highly qualified candidates to be considered, while honoring veterans’ preference, should lead to more good fits in those hired. However, I suspect that agencies would balk, at least initially, at accepting the “highly qualified” ratings of another agency: “After all, who knows better than we what we’re looking for in a candidate?”

Meeting short-term hiring needs with short-term noncompetitive appointments would work well for agencies and, during periods of high unemployment, would likely generate a large pool of candidates. However, the inability of an agency to competitively hire the top performers when the crisis ends would likely frustrate both managers and departing employees.

Revisions to the current student loan authority are also long overdue; however, how the adjustments contained in the proposed bill would result in more effective recruitment and retention are unclear to me.

By now, most of you are wondering why I’m bothering to babble on about a proposal that has long been hung up in Congress. Well, there are two reasons. There were some good ideas in the package that can’t be carried out administratively but that shouldn’t be allowed to die. And there’s that last item in the above list, which could well be enacted soon: phased retirement.

Next week I’ll fill you in on what that amounts to and what its chances of becoming law are.