Federal Hiring:

Reconciling Managerial Flexibility with Veterans' Preference

GGD-95-102: Published: Jun 16, 1995. Publicly Released: Jun 16, 1995.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed federal hiring procedures, focusing on whether: (1) those procedures are working; and (2) hiring reform efforts address the needs of agencies and applicants.

GAO found that: (1) the Department of Agriculture initiated a demonstration project to test the feasibility of providing managers more selection flexibility, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) automated various hiring procedures, and the National Performance Review (NPR) recommended reforms to streamline the federal hiring process; (2) recent hires surveyed said they had no problem with the application process, but many felt that they waited an unreasonably long time to receive a job offer; (3) many veterans were not satisfied with the preference procedures and often did not receive enhanced employment consideration; (4) federal referral procedures allowed agencies to fill vacancies with qualified people in a timely manner, while selection procedures often did not; (5) veterans' preference procedures and the Rule of Three adversely affected timely hiring and candidate quality; (6) shortcomings with the federal hiring process increased the time needed to hire candidates and impeded agency operations; and (7) although current reform initiatives could make the hiring process more efficient, they do not balance managers' flexibility in selecting the best candidates and the legal requirement to give hiring preference to veterans.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: OPM discussed with agencies and affected constituencies the possibility of testing alternative methods of meeting the legal requirements of veterans' preference so that "managers would have greater discretion in the selection process." OPM found essentially no support for such personnel demonstration projects. USDA conducted an 8-year demonstration project that successfully used category rating to increase managers' discretion while maintaining or improving the rates at which preference-eligible veterans were hired. Veteran Servicing Organizations were kept apprised of this effort and have been pleased with election outcomes and supportive of extending permanently. The demonstration project ended in 1998 and USDA no longer has the authority to conduct category rating. Congress granted the Internal Revenue Service such authority, and OPM has included such a proposal among the HRM initiatives it is discussing with stakeholders.

    Recommendation: The Director, OPM, under OPM personnel demonstration project authority, should actively recruit agencies and assist them in carrying out demonstration projects that would test improved methods of implementing veterans' preference procedures. Such procedures should attempt to better reconcile managers' desire for greater discretion in the selection process with the legal requirement to provide veterans with preference in hiring. These procedures should be developed in consultation with representatives of veterans' groups, labor unions, and other affected parties, and could include, for example, such actions as developing alternatives to the Rule of Three, adding a new noncompetitive hiring authority for veterans, and establishing an affirmative veteran employment program similar to that maintained by the Department of Veterans Affairs. To ensure that increased flexibility does not come at the expense of accountability, any alternative tested should hold managers responsible for enhancing veteran employment opportunities, as required by law. On the basis of evaluations of these agency demonstration projects, OPM, in consultation with affected parties, may then be in a position to propose statutory changes to the hiring process that would implement successful innovations nationwide.

    Agency Affected: Office of Personnel Management


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