How An Extreme Hiring Makeover Is Helping One Federal Agency

CMS undergoes an extreme hiring makeover that could help key the agency’s success in meeting new legislative challenges.

Looking for new ways to meet a formidable legislative challenge, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services may have found the best answer – hire the best qualified people to make it happen. Sound easy enough? It isn’t, especially given many of the government’s built-in roadblocks to effective recruitment. A simple recruiting plan would not suffice. Instead, an ‘extreme hiring makeover’ was in order.

A Partnership for Public Service expert on human capital practices testified before a Senate committee studying how CMS will carry out legislation to upgrade Medicare benefits for America’s seniors. Marcia Marsh, vice president for government transformation at the Partnership, revealed how a pro bono team of recruitment experts is helping CMS meet one of its biggest challenges: attracting talented employees to meet their increased program demands.

“When it comes to ensuring their access to health care and prescription drug benefits, our parents and grandparents deserve the most skilled and qualified professionals available,” said Marsh. “CMS has bravely come forward to undergo an ‘extreme hiring makeover’ to ensure it is recruiting and hiring the very best people to carry out the critical services it provides to the nation, charting a course we hope other government agencies will follow.”

The Extreme Hiring Makeover project, which launched in September 2004, focuses on three federal agencies: CMS, the Department of Education, and the National Nuclear Security Administration. Assisting the agencies is a team of private and public sector hiring and recruitment experts: Monster Government Solutions, ePredix, CPS Human Resource Services, AIRS, Brainbench, the Human Capital Institute and Korn/Ferry International.

CMS is experiencing a pressing need for change in its staffing to meet the requirements of the Medicare Modernization Act, which establishes a voluntary prescription drug benefit for the nation’s seniors. In particular, the agency needs individuals with expertise in pharmaceutical contracting, disease management and prevention, nursing home formulatory needs, retiree benefit package structures and marketing.

Marsh also specified a number of recruitment challenges further complicating CMS’s hiring needs:

— an aging workforce with significant numbers of retirements in the coming years;

— a hiring process that takes too long and doesn’t always effectively engage managers;

— and a need to improve the way candidates are assessed to ensure the best fit for the job.

These challenges, she noted, are found throughout most federal government organizations.

To tackle the problem, the “makeover” team created a demonstration hiring project within CMS’s Families and Children’s Health Programs Group to test-drive new hiring strategies that might be used more broadly throughout the entire agency.

Focusing their efforts on helping to hire health insurance specialists, the team helped agency officials get managers more involved in the front end of the hiring process, outlining the specific skills needed for each job and creating pre-screening questions before hiring started. They also targeted potential employees by using the Internet to identify skilled candidates from multiple job boards, ultimately attracting 276 applicants in the first round.

Since the Extreme Hiring Makeover project’s inception, Marsh said, the makeover team has helped agencies diagnose their key hiring challenges, implementing quick fixes to show immediate success. These include increasing marketing appeal for job vacancy announcements, targeting passive candidates for existing openings, helping script communication for job fairs, and providing interview guides for managers.

Currently, the teams are engaged in addressing short and long term solutions, including designing new hiring processes, creating a toolkit to facilitate better planning for recruitment efforts for managers and human resources teams, improving candidate screening and assessment practices, designing new recruitment materials, and training each agency’s recruitment experts.

In July 2005, the teams will reveal their results and lessons learned at a public forum sponsored by the Partnership for Public Service and Monster Government Solutions.

About the Author

Ralph Smith has several decades of experience working with federal human resources issues. He has written extensively on a full range of human resources topics in books and newsletters and is a co-founder of two companies and several newsletters on federal human resources. Follow Ralph on Twitter: @RalphSmith47