Federal Employees Say Hiring Process Doesn’t Work Well

Does the current system of hiring new federal employees result in hiring well qualified people? Would a standardized test produce better results? Here are responses to a recent survey of FedSmith.com readers.

Is the federal government’s hiring process effective?

We asked our readers for their opinion in a recent survey and received a large response often accompanied by strong opinions on the subject. It may be more than a little disheartening to learn that readers, most of whom still work for the federal government, think the government is not hiring well qualified employees under the current system. Here are the results.

With regard to the question of whether the current federal hiring process enables the government to hire well qualified employees, most people said "no." 56% of those responding said that the federal government’s process does not enable their agencies to hire well qualified employees. 26% responded "yes" to the question and 13% were not sure. The other 5% responded with "other" and often meant that they were able to hire well qualified people in some cases but not in others.

In response to the question of whether the government was better able to attract qualified employees when it used a uniform testing program, 36% said "yes"; 29% said "no"; and 34% were not sure. 2% of those responding responded with "other" and, based on comments, apparently meant that in some cases the testing process worked better and in others it did not.

49% of those responding said that the government should develop a standard testing program as a primary element in hiring new federal employees. 38% did not like this idea; 11% were not sure and 2% thought that testing should be used for some positions and not others.

56% of respondents said it is possible for the government to develop a test that is reasonably fair to potential applicants. 30% said it was not possible and 14% were not sure.
Here is a sampling of the comments from readers on the issue.

A number of readers think the current system is too complex and just takes too long to work correctly.

An HR specialist from Vicksburg, MS wrote: "Complicated procedures to hire the best and brightest are the problem, not a dated testing procedure."

An HR specialist from the VA in Milwaukee says: "Agencies are able to hire quality employees not because of the process but in spite of the process. Modification of the Veteran Preference Laws, not elimination, would give quality non-vets an opportunity to receive consideration on OPM certificates."

A contracting officer with the VA in Fresno had this to say: "The process is too cumbersome. It took me more than 90 days to get my current job when I was just changing agencies. The good applicants will get snapped up by other companies before the feds can get their act together to hire them."

And this surprising comment from an HR specialist with the Army in Washington, DC: "Contract out Staffing, it’s too hard to get a federal job."

An HR specialist from the Army at Ft. Belvoir summed up the comments similar to other readers in this way: "As a 26 year Fed – with most of it in the HR profession – I believe that the hiring process has become completely unmanageable. No longer is there one application process, but a variety of systems and processes used by the different agencies, requiring applicants to create and maintain numerous resumes on numerous different systems. We need to have a single application process – single application portal."

Some readers do not like the idea of testing potential new employees.

This nurse from the VA in Asheville wrote: "Some people are good test takers, but are unable to apply knowledge. You must rely on more than just a standardized test."

A management analyst from CDC in Atlanta says: "Testing should not be the only way people should be hired. I don’t test well, but feel that I am a better than average employee and am able to learn well and quickly. Experience should be a big factor in many jobs as it is at this agency. Without the education, training, or experience many of our positions could not be filled."

As noted above, most people think testing has advantages in the hiring process. Here are a few of those comments.

An IT manager with Homeland Security in Washington has this comment: "A general test followed by a topic specific test should be offered to anyone who wants a Federal job. If someone doesn’t want to test, there may be a problem."

An examiner with Commerce in Alexandria says: "At the very least, a high level of English proficiency should be required of all employees."

A contracting officer with the IRS in Maryland comments: "The process takes too long and many qualified people get frustrated with all the red tape. It appears that in order to get a federal position its not what you know its who you know. In addition, our agency has hired several outstanding scholars and they leave a lot to be desired. The four individualas in my agency lack initiative and drive and common sense. Not everyone can maintain a 4.0 in college depending on their field of study, so get real."

An Air Force Chief from Tinker AFB: "NSPS will not fix the main problem — the personnel bureaucracy. Local hiring, testing programs, university placement programs, etc. are what we need. The hiring official should be in control, but is not. Political and social objectives override merit in the system."

An executive assistant with the Navy in Jacksonville: Instead of educating people so they could PASS the test, we DID AWAY with it??? DUH! Civil Service sure isn’t what it used to be."

A Human Capital Analyst from Glynco, GA writes: "The biggest fear of testing comes from within the federal system."

An IT specialist in Indianapolis: "In recent years I have seen new hirees come from our on-site restaraunt, coffee shop and barber shop and a bosses daughter. All the while, college grads (including one accounting major I know) can’t get a foot in the door. That’s shameful!!!"

Thanks to all readers who took the time to vote in our latest survey and to share your opinions.