The Office of Personnel Management announced it was adding new direct hiring authority for specific positions that have a critical need for additional talent. The memo was from OPM acting director Margaret Weichert and was sent to all agency heads.
This direct hiring will apply to Scientific, Technical, Engineering, Mathematics (STEM), as well as Cybersecurity and related positions. The memo notes that agencies may appoint individuals into the occupations identified in the list of positions at the specific grade levels (or equivalent) nationwide. Individuals may be appointed to competitive service career, career-conditional, term, or temporary positions.
The Trump administration also announced it will create a series of new pay systems to reward certain groups of employees. They will do this using existing authority the federal government has never used before.
Weichert announced the new initiative as part of a package of steps she’s implementing in her new role to boost recruitment and retention efforts. This is along with the expedited hiring authority for the positions mentioned above.
“OPM is planning a number of administrative guidance and legislative changes, as well as ways to work and learn from the private sector through public-private partnerships, to get people into government to focus on the things the American people need,” she said. “Layers and years of statute and added regulation have made it very complex and very cumbersome to operate nimbly and agilely in the 21st century.”
She said the changes would improve enforcement of the federal government’s merit system principles.
The Special Occupational Pay Authority was created in the 1990 Federal Employee Pay Comparability Act, but OPM said it has never been used. The law states that the president’s Pay Agent, consisting of the secretary of the Labor Department and the directors of OPM and the Office of Management and Budget, can establish an alternative pay system for job categories in which the normal standards “do not function adequately.” The Pay Agent must post a proposal in the Federal Register, submit the suggestion to Congress, hold a public hearing, and consult with affected agencies and unions. The base pay under the alternative system is capped at Executive Schedule Level 5, which is $153,800 for 2018, but the law doesn’t prohibit locality pay on top of that.
OPM will issue its first alternative pay system for economists in the federal government. The agency called it a “high-risk, mission-critical” occupation in need of a “new approach” for pay. OPM has created an interagency working group to identify additional occupations for a new pay and classification system. They expect to create proposals for 3-5 additional jobs over the next year.
The STEM/IT direct hire authorities were initially launched under the former OPM director, Jeff Pon. “OPM is aware that individuals with the knowledge, skills, and ability to perform in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM), and cybersecurity occupations are in heavy demand and that this demand could, perhaps, be affecting mission-critical functions,” Pon wrote in a memorandum earlier this year.
The STEM authority will apply to positions involving cybersecurity and operations, computer network operations, information assurance, and diplomacy, military, and intelligence missions related to information and communication infrastructure. This authority will be finalized in regulations next week, while the IT authority will require a combination of regulations and power.
OPM is moving forward on its reorganization plan and has taken steps on the administration’s proposal to consolidate background checks within the Defense Department and move many of OPM’s transactional functions to the General Services Administration.
“Independence [of OPM], if it’s not delivering the actual mission, isn’t of the primary concern,” Weichert said. She has met with the top career leaders at OPM and is planning a “walk around” to meet each of the agency’s teams.