DOD Makes Progress in Civilian Hiring Reform

WASHINGTON — Until very recent­ly, apply­ing for a civil­ian job at the Defense Depart­ment was an exer­cise in endurance and patience. Appli­cants had to nav­i­gate through a byzan­tine fed­er­al hir­ing process and amass thick appli­ca­tion pack­ets, then often wait­ed as long as a year for any word on their appli­ca­tions.

Pasquale “Pat” M. Tam­bur­ri­no Jr., deputy assis­tant sec­re­tary of defense for civil­ian per­son­nel pol­i­cy, said the prac­tice left defense offices short of crit­i­cal skills for extend­ed peri­ods and dis­cour­aged the best can­di­dates from even con­sid­er­ing fed­er­al service. 

“If you are going to be in the mar­ket­place, com­pet­ing for the best and bright­est – which is what we want – we want to be the employ­er of choice,” he said. “And if you make it hard to apply, you are going to lose in the marketplace.” 

Com­mit­ted to attract­ing the best job can­di­dates, the Defense Depart­ment is mak­ing good on Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s man­date last year to improve the fed­er­al hir­ing process. DOD launched its own hir­ing reform ini­tia­tive two years ago, and it’s rev­o­lu­tion­iz­ing the way the depart­ment process­es about 250,000 hir­ing actions a year, Tam­bur­ri­no said. The typ­i­cal time­frame for hir­ing new employ­ees already has been cut from an aver­age of 155 days to 116. “We’re pret­ty hap­py with that, but we are not stop­ping there,” Tam­bur­ri­no said. His goal is to reduce that to the administration’s goal of about 80 days. 

The broad, 10-step DOD hir­ing reform ini­tia­tive cov­ers the full spec­trum of the hir­ing process to make it not only faster, but also sim­pler, less bureau­crat­ic and more trans­par­ent, he explained. It makes apply­ing for a DOD job more in line with what the pri­vate sec­tor offers, he added, and ensures hir­ing man­agers have the tools they need to adver­tise and fill vacancies. 

It builds a clos­er part­ner­ship between hir­ing man­agers and human resources per­son­nel to expe­dite the hir­ing process and make it a bet­ter expe­ri­ence for every­one involved, Tam­bur­ri­no said. 

For appli­cants, gone is the bur­den­some Stan­dard Form 171, the offi­cial fed­er­al resume that could run 15 to 20 pages. Also gone is the require­ment that job-seek­ers write essays prov­ing they have the prop­er knowl­edge, skills and abil­i­ties – called KSAs – for the job. 

Appli­ca­tions have gone elec­tron­ic, filed through the Office of Per­son­nel Management’s gov­ern­men­twide “USAJobs” por­tal. And once appli­cants enter their pro­file into the sys­tem, detail­ing their edu­ca­tion, work his­to­ry and skills, that infor­ma­tion prop­a­gates all of their oth­er job applications. 

After they press “send,” appli­cants are no longer left won­der­ing if their appli­ca­tion has gone into a “black hole,” Tam­bur­ri­no said. “Peo­ple are get­ting feed­back when they sub­mit their appli­ca­tion,” he said. “They are get­ting a response: ‘Your appli­ca­tion is in the queue. It has been received by the [human resources] office. It is being processed.’ ” Any ques­tions that need to be cleared up are addressed ear­ly on to ensure they don’t slow down the process. 

DOD’s hir­ing reform ini­tia­tive does­n’t stop with the appli­ca­tion process. Hir­ing man­agers are adopt­ing new, stream­lined meth­ods to adver­tise their posi­tions and inter­view the best-qual­i­fied candidates. 

The days of “con­vo­lut­ed vacan­cy announce­ments that were almost unique to every indi­vid­ual job we adver­tised” have fall­en by the way­side, Tam­bur­ri­no said. Now, rather than cus­tom-writ­ing every vacan­cy announce­ment, hir­ing man­agers are encour­aged to use stan­dard­ized tem­plates that cov­er basic job func­tions at the des­ig­nat­ed occu­pa­tion­al series and grade lev­el. Minor edits to those tem­plates ensure they prop­er­ly describe the par­tic­u­lar job being filled. 

“We think that makes it go a lot faster,” Tam­bur­ri­no said. “We are teach­ing man­agers how to do struc­tured inter­views and how to write bet­ter job oppor­tu­ni­ty announce­ments.” Much of that instruc­tion is pro­vid­ed through the new online Hir­ing Man­agers Toolk­it, which DOD start­ed rolling out about eight months ago and con­tin­ues to refine. The toolk­it offers guides, tip sheets and check­lists to help hir­ing man­agers bet­ter part­ner with their human resources ser­vic­ing cen­ters, Tam­bur­ri­no said. The toolk­it has become the gold stan­dard among fed­er­al agen­cies, receiv­ing raves from OPM and oth­ers want­i­ng to adopt it as well. 

“We rou­tine­ly get feed­back on that toolk­it, that it is one of the most for­ward-lean­ing, inno­v­a­tive tools in the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment,” Tam­bur­ri­no said. “We are unaware of any oth­er exec­u­tive agency that has a toolk­it with as many tools in it and as many infor­ma­tion pieces in it to help hir­ing man­agers. … We think we have a lock on the mar­ket.” Anoth­er key to DOD’s hir­ing reform ini­tia­tive are the human resources pro­fes­sion­als themselves. 

“You are respon­si­ble for pro­vid­ing the very best in cus­tomer ser­vice,” Tam­bur­ri­no tells his HR pro­fes­sion­als. “If an orga­ni­za­tion comes to you seek­ing advice, you must give clear, plain-lan­guage advice on how to address their challenge.” 

As sub­ject-mat­ter experts who under­stand the nuances of some­times daunt­ing fed­er­al hir­ing reg­u­la­tions and know what it takes to attract and recruit good tal­ent, HR pro­fes­sion­als are valu­able part­ners in help­ing hir­ing man­agers nav­i­gate the hir­ing process, he said. 

As DOD starts real­iz­ing the ben­e­fit of its hir­ing reform ini­tia­tive, Tam­bur­ri­no said, he’s see­ing a lot of enthu­si­asm about its pos­si­bil­i­ties. Feed­back, gar­nered through sur­veys, gives job appli­cants and hir­ing man­agers alike an oppor­tu­ni­ty to weigh in on the improve­ments. Tam­bur­ri­no said it also helps to uncov­er short­com­ings in an effort to fur­ther refine the process. 

Regard­less of how much the process improves, Tam­bur­ri­no said he nev­er expects to be able to declare “mis­sion accom­plished.” “I don’t think this is ever going to be over,” he said. “This is con­tin­u­ous process improve­ment, and I don’t think we are ever going to be sat­is­fied with where we are.” In the mean­time, Tam­bur­ri­no said, he’s sat­is­fied with the direc­tion the process is tak­ing DOD’s hir­ing process. 

“It’s time­li­ness and qual­i­ty, bal­anced,” he said. “It’s suc­cess for the appli­cant and suc­cess for the man­ag­er, bal­anced.” These ini­tia­tives have elim­i­nat­ed bar­ri­ers to attract­ing the broad­est, most tal­ent­ed work­force for the department’s work in car­ing for mil­i­tary mem­bers and their fam­i­lies, con­duct­ing research, run­ning depots and ship­yards, and even devel­op­ing the next-gen­er­a­tion weapons sys­tems, Tam­bur­ri­no said. 

“Where else are you going to do that?” he asked. “We think we are a great place to work, and we give peo­ple at every lev­el of expe­ri­ence a great oppor­tu­ni­ty to do real­ly unique stuff. So we want peo­ple to grav­i­tate to us, and we want an abil­i­ty to real­ly pick out the crown jew­els that exist out there in the work­force and say, ‘Come work with us.’ ” 

Ulti­mate­ly, Tam­bur­ri­no said, he’d like to see the hir­ing reform ini­tia­tive expand its focus to “employ­ment reform.” He describes that as an effort to improve the way the Defense Depart­ment man­ages the careers of the civil­ian employ­ees it recruits. 

“To me, it is a whole life­cy­cle event,” he said. “Get­ting you in is just one step.” 

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs) 

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