Federal Hiring:

Testing for Entry-Level Administrative Positions Falls Short of Expectations

GGD-94-103: Published: Mar 30, 1994. Publicly Released: Apr 15, 1994.

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L. Nye Stevens
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Administrative Careers With America (ACWA) program, focusing on: (1) the extent to which ACWA is used in relation to other hiring methods; (2) federal agencies' perceptions about ACWA program effectiveness; and (3) whether the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) plans to change the ACWA program as a result of its low usage rate.

GAO found that: (1) federal agencies have not used ACWA to fill vacancies to the extent OPM expected because they believe that alternative hiring methods better meet their needs; (2) although agencies filled 2,797 vacancies through ACWA hiring methods between 1991 and 1992, nearly 35,000 vacancies were filled through alternative hiring methods and employee transfers, promotions, and reassignments; (3) agencies prefer using alternative hiring methods because ACWA hiring procedures and statutory requirements are too time consuming, do not meet their needs, and delay the hiring process; (4) most ACWA applicants were disappointed with the ACWA hiring process because they were not sufficiently informed of their application status; (5) OPM changes to the ACWA hiring process include allowing applicants to apply for specific vacancies, agencies to assist in developing scoring criteria, and ACWA examinations to be optional; (6) OPM plans to provide applicants with better vacancy and general application information to alleviate their frustration with the ACWA hiring process; (7) planned modifications to the ACWA program would alleviate many obstacles to its limited use; (8) OPM could better inform applicants of federal employment procedures if it provided them with information on the various alternative hiring methods available; and (9) OPM needs to modify ACWA hiring procedures for the seven largest occupations to make more jobs available to external candidates.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: New ACWA hiring procedures became effective November 20, 1995. The new procedures cover all ACWA occupations, including those in Group 7 (with positive education requirements) and the seven largest ACWA occupations. The ACWA central registers were replaced with case examining, which requires applicants to apply for specific vacancies. Applicants complete a rating schedule that assesses their skills and abilities important for the job. The rating schedules are scored and agencies are provided with a rank-ordered list of eligible applicants. Agencies can follow up with a selection interview to choose among the top candidates. OPM can provide agencies with local inventories of applicants if they plan to fill a large number of vacancies over a short period.

    Recommendation: To further increase the use of competitive hiring and to be more responsive to the needs of agencies, the Director, OPM, should consider including the seven largest ACWA occupations in its proposals to redesign ACWA. Even if OPM does not make the ACWA examination optional for these seven occupations, as it is proposing to do for others, the OPM ACWA task force should consider allowing agencies to: (1) solicit applications for specific vacancies from those who pass the ACWA examination; and (2) augment examination scores using criteria established by the agency. If an agency or office expects periodic hiring in a specific occupation, it could solicit applications from those passing the examination and maintain its own registers in augmented score order, still considering veterans' preference.

    Agency Affected: Office of Personnel Management

  2. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: On May 27, 1994, the nationwide ACWA central register was closed to new applicants. Placements from the existing ACWA register will continue through September 1994. In a proposal made to plaintiffs in the Luevano consent decree, OPM would then close ACWA's central registers altogether. That change would give applicants a more realistic picture of their chances for being hired. They would apply for a specific position and be rated for that job (possibly using an ACWA written test). They would soon know whether or not they had been selected. That is much different from the current situation of being on a large, little-used central register.

    Recommendation: To further alleviate applicants' frustrations with the hiring process and provide them with complete information on obtaining employment, OPM should provide them with information on the other hiring methods that are used to fill vacancies in ACWA occupations.

    Agency Affected: Office of Personnel Management


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