Cover: Federal Civilian Workforce Hiring, Recruitment, and Related Compensation Practices for the Twenty-First Century

Federal Civilian Workforce Hiring, Recruitment, and Related Compensation Practices for the Twenty-First Century

Review of Federal HR Demonstration Projects and Alternative Personnel Systems to Identify Best Practices and Lessons Learned

Published Sep 28, 2020

by Ginger Groeber, Paul W. Mayberry, Brandon Crosby, Mark Doboga, Samantha E. DiNicola, Caitlin Lee, Ellen E. Tunstall


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Research Questions

  1. What federal demonstration projects and APSs are currently in operation?
  2. What best practices for recruiting, hiring, and providing related compensation can be drawn from current federal demonstration projects and APSs?

The U.S. government employs around 2 million civilian personnel. The authority to hire and manage civilians is covered by a patchwork of human capital programs and rules that, over time, has failed to keep pace with the dynamics of a twenty-first century workforce. Federal human resources (HR) managers have complained that federal hiring procedures were rigid and complex. In an attempt to address such problems, the government has created an intricate system of demonstration projects, alternative personnel systems (APSs), and direct-hire authorities that have targeted select agencies and job types. While adding flexibility, these reforms have often resulted in multiple HR systems and greater complexity in managing federal personnel. One goal of the 2018 President's Management Agenda is to enable simple and strategic hiring practices, and the Department of Defense was tasked with examining best practices of federal demonstration projects and APSs. Toward this end, the authors identified best practices for recruiting, hiring, and compensation in 41 federal demonstration projects and APSs that began between January 2008 and May 2019. Informed by a literature review and discussions with civilian human resource professionals, the authors categorized best practices into three effectiveness groups: best, promising, and innovative. This review of program practices also revealed shortfalls in the evaluation process and implementation of these programs. The findings can inform the government's direction as it addresses the need for a talented and high-performing workforce supported by contemporary and effective human resource systems and practices.

Key Findings

Several current federal demonstration projects are currently in operation

  • The study team identified four categories of demonstration projects and APSs: (1) demonstration projects approved by the Office of Personnel Management, (2) agency-managed demonstration projects, (3) APSs that were former demonstration projects, and (4) other independent personnel systems.
  • As of May 2019, 41 demonstration projects and APSs that started on or after January 2008 continue to operate.

Effective practices used in ongoing demonstration projects can inform the development of effective human resource systems and practices

  • Effective recruiting practices include interagency collaborations (e.g., collaborative job announcements and applicant sourcing for similar positions among different agencies), video interviewing, aggressive outreach and direct hiring authority, and student employment programs (e.g., job fair outreach and postdoctoral fellowship programs).
  • Effective hiring practices include direct hiring authority managed by organizations, not external authorities; a three-year probationary period to allow supervisors to make permanent hiring decisions based on employees' demonstrated capabilities; a modified veterans' preference; and the placement of student hires in more-general positions from which they can advance to long-term assignments as positions open.
  • Effective compensation practices include pay banding, contribution-based compensation and appraisal systems, advanced in-hire rates without prior approval, and checks and balances in the performance management and payout processes to ensure fair treatment of all employees.
  • Effective cross-cutting practices include (1) publishing and disseminating rules, policies, and information and (2) allowing union employees to opt in.

Discussions with federal HR representatives revealed a number of evaluation process shortfalls associated with specification, conduct, oversight, and reporting evaluation outcomes as well as shortfalls in the implementation of the programs themselves

This research was sponsored by the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Civilian Personnel Policy and conducted within the Forces and Resources Policy Center of the RAND National Defense Research Institute.

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