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Chicago, IL -- U .S. Office of Personnel Management Deputy Director Dan G. Blair today brought to the city's North Side a contemporary and an optimistic view from Washington about federal employment opportunities for veterans, minorities and other qualified job seekers.
Testifying before a field hearing sponsored by Danny K. Davis (D-IL), ranking member of the House Subcommittee on Civil Service and Agency Organization, Blair discussed improvements to the federal hiring process, and he reviewed the Bush Administration's accomplishments in human resources management over the past three years and outlined existing challenges in the fixing the hiring process. In doing so, he credited OPM Director Kay Coles James' leadership in making the search for federal employment less cumbersome and less mystifying for job seekers, and less time-consuming for managers to hire top candidates.
Blair reinforced that agencies, not OPM, perform their own hiring. However, OPM is disappointed that the many tools and flexibilities it has granted to agencies have been used infrequently.
"Director James has made it clear that any changes (to the hiring process) would need to comply with the letter and spirit of the merit system principles, including veterans' preference," said Blair. "As steward of the federal merit system, Director James and OPM take seriously the responsibility of ensuring the integrity of the federal hiring process."
Representative Jo Ann Davis (R-VA), subcommittee Chairwoman, joined her Illinois colleague for the hearing. The congresswoman represents a sizeable number of federal employees in her northern Virginia district.
To help move decision-makers toward creative, merit-based HR practices, James recently shared with Chief Human Capital Officers her list of 10 hiring fixes. The list includes using the new "category rating system" to increase the number of qualified candidates, including veterans, who are presented to managers for hire; sending recruiters to college campuses; and, offering "talent" incentives to attract exceptional people.
Blair emphasized the Bush Administration's commitment to the men and women of America's armed services, and he promoted the relationship of OPM's Veterans' Invitational Program with Veterans Service Organizations to help transition servicemen and servicewomen into the civil service.
"We owe our nation's veterans a debt of gratitude -- especially in these perilous times -- for their sacrifices," said Blair. "Veterans have a track record of proven commitment to the country and are extremely well-trained. The goal is to get our recent veterans working as quickly as possible on the civilian side of the federal work force."
Blair also referred to "strengthened" ties between OPM and Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Hispanic Association Colleges and Universities. OPM data show the federal government is doing a good job in hiring and promoting minorities, although challenges remain with total Hispanic representation.
During the proceeding, Blair announced a job fair will be held in Davis' Cook County district on June 26. OPM, in its role as strategic and business partner, is encouraging agencies to stock the fair with officials who are "empowered to hire" and take advantage of the on-the-spot hiring authority James has approved for jobs in medicine, information technology and other hard-to-fill occupations.
Blair commended Representative Davis for his interest in hiring and he is counting on his support to have agencies confront the upcoming retirement wave issue. "That's why we've been beating the drum so loudly over hiring and flexibilities," Blair said.
OPM-sponsored recruitment fairs in 11 cities this year have been extremely successful in attracting people from all backgrounds. A fair in New York City had lines several blocks long of eager job seekers, and according to one federal official whose agency had recruiters on hand, the fair was "effective (in) reaching out to a diverse pool of potential applicants." Blair told the subcommittee last October that 40,000 federal employees would likely retire this year, creating opportunities for qualified replacements.
In terms of future opportunities, Blair said agencies must take ultimate responsibility for hiring smartly and in a timely manner. "We have invested much of our personal time and energy in these issues.... (and) have made strong efforts to provide agencies with the tools they need, but more needs to be done."
With a major revamping of the primary web site for federal job openings and related forms, criticism of the "look and feel" of government job announcements has been blunted, according to Blair. He said enhancements to OPM's USAJOBS web site (www.usajobs.gov) include a standardized, easier to read vacancy announcement form and more-detailed information for veterans and people with disabilities. Job seekers also can compose résumés online and store multiple versions that can be viewed by hiring officials looking for specific qualifications.
Blair noted that 50,000 people in Illinois have created résumés through USAJOBS, adding that the site's redesign in August 2003 has induced 60 million hits from job seekers nationally, more than seven times as many as in the previous 10 months combined.
Other subjects Blair covered for the panel included the Presidential Management Fellows Program, in which 24 graduates of Chicago-area universities are participating; OPM's 45-day hiring model that is available to agencies; and, a hiring survey sponsored by OPM to gauge agency use of HR flexibilities to recruit and retain employees.
Our mission is to Recruit, Retain and Honor a World-Class Workforce to Serve the American People. OPM supports U.S. agencies with personnel services and policy leadership including staffing tools, guidance on labor-management relations and programs to improve work force performance.