President Biden’s budget request for fiscal 2023 seeks to tackle some of the federal government’s most longstanding problems: hiring and human capital management.
The issue of federal human capital management has been on the Government Accountability Office’s high risk list for two decades, in part due to agencies’ difficulty filling positions with high-demand skills like cybersecurity and other science, technology, engineering and math disciplines. And agencies and job applicants alike have complained for years about the length of the time it takes to hire a new federal employee.
Many of the workforce provisions in Biden’s budget proposal, released Monday, are aimed at making the federal government a “model employer,” building on initiatives already underway within the administration. For instance, after the Office of Personnel Management published regulations last year making it easier for federal agencies to pay interns and eventually hire them permanently, the budget provides funding to support agencies’ plans to ramp up the use of internships after a decade where the practice lost favor across the federal government.
“Agencies included in the Chief Financial Officers Act of 1990 have committed to hiring over 35,000 interns in 2023, which will be an increase over 2022 projected intern hiring,” the White House wrote in a document accompanying the budget. “Agencies are incorporating internships into workforce planning and prioritizing resources to increase paid internship opportunities.”
The budget also builds on efforts to improve the hiring process, particularly the initiative to rely more on skills assessments by agency subject matter experts to evaluate job applicants, rather than the self-administered evaluations that dominated the traditional federal hiring process. In addition to ramping up the new assessment method, the Biden administration said it wants to make it easier for agencies to share qualified job applicants with each other, which would cut down on duplicative hiring announcements and make it easier for people who are qualified but were not selected for a job to still be hired at another agency.
“To scale these best practices, OPM is building functionality to engage subject matter experts in technical assessments and leveraging centralized technology platforms to allow agencies to share approved applicant lists, so hiring managers can quickly see resumes of applicants who have been assessed and are ‘pre-cleared’ for immediate selection,” the White House wrote.
The effort to reform how the federal government recruits new employees expands beyond Washington, D.C., with more funds and a plan to restructure how regional Federal Executive Boards are governed. Under Biden’s budget, funding for Federal Executive Boards would move from an “ad hoc” system to a centralized $10 million interagency line of business and the creation of a Federal Executive Board Program Management Office, to which local boards would report.
“Fluctuating commitments of budget and staff by employing agencies previously jeopardized a sustained, dedicated approach over time,” the administration wrote. “Centered around a coordinated set of workforce and administration priorities, FEBs will focus on local recruitment efforts helping to build the next generation of federal talent from diverse communities. In particular, leveraging FEBs to build internal and external relationships that will fortify federal talent pipelines and recruitment is urgent given the challenges federal agencies face around federal hiring.”
Biden’s funding proposal also addresses the need to retain federal workers, particularly in highly skilled fields with high turnover. In addition to pitching Congress on an average 4.6% pay raise for federal employees in 2023, the plan proposes a variety of tweaks to federal compensation, including modifying critical position pay, establishing a new pay incentive for employees with critical skills, increasing the special rate limitation for mission-critical positions, and updating General Schedule pay setting for new hires.
There are also proposals in the budget that would improve federal workers’ non-salary benefits. As part of a larger effort to expand Americans’ access to mental health care, the budget “lowers patients’ costs” for mental health services for people enrolled in Medicare, TRICARE, veterans and the Federal Employee Health Benefits Program.
“The budget also requires parity in coverage between behavioral health and medical benefits, and expands coverage for behavioral health providers under Medicare,” the budget states.
In a blog post published on Performance.gov Tuesday, Jason Miller, deputy director for management at the Office of Management and Budget, and OPM Director Kiran Ahuja wrote that the federal government serve as a “model employer” in order to empower the federal workforce to do their best work for the American people, and said the administration is embarking on a long-term effort to improve human capital management.
“Together, each of these levers—the [President’s Management Agenda], the president’s budget, and a strong OPM shepherding innovative workforce policies—shape a strategic, multi-year plan to address critical workforce needs across government,” they wrote. “There is much work to be done to meet and exceed each of these goals to support the federal workforce and ensure the federal government is a model employer.”