Bipartisan Bill Stresses Skills in Public Sector Hiring


Finding common ground seems more difficult by the day for the politicians on Capitol Hill.

But the House leaders from both major parties seem to agree that putting more emphasis on skills and experience would improve the public sector hiring process.

The House recently passed The Chance to Compete Act, which seeks “to implement merit-based reforms to the civil service hiring system that replace degree-based hiring with skills- and competency-based hiring, and for other purposes.” Passing the House by a 422-2 margin, the bipartisan legislation heads on to the Senate for consideration.

If successful in the Senate, the bill would attempt to “make hiring more targeted through subject-matter expert interviews and skills tests,” wrote The Federal Times’ Molly Weisner, noting that such tools “can reduce reliance on paper credentials and whittle down applicant pools for hiring managers, thereby saving time and ensuring candidates are truly a good match for the work.”

“The private sector already uses such structured interviews, knowledge tests and writing samples for the hiring process,” House Oversight Committee Chairman James Comer (R-Ky.) said on the House floor. “It is time the federal government does too.”

Less Emphasis on Education

As Government Executive reported upon the bill making its way through Congress, the legislation codifies recent changes made by the Trump and Biden administrations to “move toward a hiring process that focuses more on evaluating applicants’ on-the-job experience and skills with subject matter experts, rather than setting minimum educational standards for positions and relying on applicants to self-assess their skillsets.”

Putting more weight on applicants’ academic bona fides has typically made the federal hiring process “a long and often fruitless” one, wrote Government Executive’s Erich Wagner. Hiring managers frequently found that candidates already familiar with the process “could simply self-report that they were qualified, making it difficult to discern which applicants, if any, could actually succeed in the job.”

As Wagner and others have pointed out, a shift toward skills-based hiring is the rare subject upon which politicians from both sides of the aisle seem to agree, with Trump administration officials first beginning the move to implement the policy on a broader scale, with President Biden’s Office of Personnel Management (OPM) continuing the effort to expand the use of more skills- and competency-based hiring.

“HR officials at federal agencies have given particularly glowing reviews to ‘shared certifications,’” Wagner wrote, “the process by which agencies can share the lists of employees they’ve assessed to be qualified for federal jobs.”

Speaking at a meeting of the CHCO Council in December, Bob Leavitt, chief human capital officer at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), noted how the use of shared certifications across government and across agencies within his department has made it simpler for these organizations to focus on administering policy and programs.

Leavitt also acknowledged a desire to improve the federal hiring process as the common thread between a move toward more skills-based hiring and shared certifications.

“What foundational elements do we need in shared certifications and [other hiring innovations]?” he asked. “It’s a recognition of the shared responsibility for hiring and leadership across functions. We must work in partnership to excel at doing just that. It’s not just a transaction of human resources—it’s a strategic requirement.”


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