Implementing EO to Reward Experience Over Education

OPM has issued guidance to agencies on reducing reliance on college education and increasing value of experience.

In June, President Trump signed an Executive Order shifting the focus for hiring into federal jobs from college degrees to qualifications an applicant will bring to a federal employee’s job.

The Executive Order was not a surprise as it was covered in the President’s fiscal 2021 budget proposal. The budget proposal stated:

[T]he Administration intends to eliminate degree requirements for Federal jobs when not inherently necessary to perform the duties of a position and to identify other instances where degrees are used as a poor proxy for specific competencies sought in job candidates. Over-reliance on degrees can be a barrier to entry into Federal service, and it can also prevent current civil servants who possess relevant skills, training or experience from transitioning into emerging fields within the Federal sector.

As a result of the Executive Order, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) is now issuing guidance on implementing the new requirements.

OPM Issues Agency Guidance

The new OPM guidance to agencies states:

[T]he U.S. (OPM) or other examining agency may not prescribe a minimum educational requirement for an examination for the competitive service except when it is determined that the duties of a scientific, technical, or professional position cannot be performed by an individual who does not have a prescribed minimum education.”

The Executive Order requires Executive Departments and Agencies to review and revise within 180 days of the executive order issued on June 26, 2020 all qualification standards consistent with the following:

  1. Education shall be a prerequisite to Federal employment only when a minimum educational qualification is legally required (5 USC 3308) for the performance of the position’s required duties.
  2. Education shall be an allowable substitute for required experience in qualifying for a position only where education directly reflects the specific skills or competencies necessary to perform the job.

Agencies Must Evaluate Assessment Process

The Executive Order also directs executive departments and agencies to ensure within 180 days of the Executive Order that candidate selection decisions must include assessments that do not rely on educational attainment to determine candidate qualification. As alternatives to educational qualifications, OPM is directing agencies to:

  1. Not rely solely on candidate self-evaluations of their qualifications (e.g., resumes and occupational questionnaires). Applicants must clear other assessment hurdles in order to be considered qualified and eligible.
  2. Agencies are also directed to continually evaluate the effectiveness of different assessment strategies to ensure the quality and integrity of their hiring process.

The directive sent to agencies by OPM also contains a chart with timelines for actions agencies should take in implementing the Executive Order.

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