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Federal hiring may not always be "fair and open"

Everyone is in favor "fair and open" hiring procedures. It is especially important for entities like the federal government, for one, because violating the Civil Service laws is illegal, and secondly, we want federal jobs to be open for all qualified citizens and the federal government should embody the spirit of all of the employment laws that have been designed to promote fairness in the workplace.

A report from the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) suggests that in some cases, hiring authorities put in place to promote some groups, like veterans for jobs in the federal workplace, may wind up inhibiting that competition. Manager's behavior may also affect the process, by limiting the period a posting is open, or reopening a posting to allow a preferred candidate to apply.

While promotion of the hiring of veterans is supportable for many reasons, there is always a danger for abuse or the appearance of abuse when too many "special rules" apply. Many employment laws were designed to prevent discrimination, and ensure that federal jobs are not distorted by cronyism and favoritism.

One difficulty in ensuring "fair and open" hiring in some agencies is that many jobs are now very specialized; often demanding advanced degrees and experience. This can encourage managers to "preselect" candidates from within, allowing them hire someone who is a known quantity or a friend.

While this may make their job easier, it can fail the agency, as it limits candidates to a small pool of potential workers, and prevents exceptional candidates from outside the agency from receiving consideration.

The MSPB recommends that agencies foster a culture that promotes fair and open hiring processes, and that they rely only when necessary on specialized hiring authorities and other restrictive hiring policies. And they need to be alert for prohibited personnel practices of any kind.

MSPB.gov, "The Impact of Recruitment Strategy on Fair and Open Competition for Federal Jobs," January, 2015

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