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New legislation could change how agencies review applicants

On Behalf of | Jan 30, 2023 | Federal Employment Law

In today’s polarized political environment, it’s rare that we hear about bipartisan efforts. Yet, members from both parties recently came together in the House of Representatives to pass a bill that could change how federal agencies hire and promote their employees.

As the Government Executive reported, H.R. 159 would formalize the government’s call for skills-based assessments by subject matter experts. It would also promote the shared certifications that agencies have used to identify qualified pools of candidates.

Competency means more than a degree

Among other things, the legislation aims to ensure that agencies can find candidates who have the skills they need. In most cases, the bill would phase out any “examination” that consisted only of:

  • Any assessment of the candidate’s resume that didn’t involve subject matter experts
  • Self-assessments from automated examinations
  • An assessment of the candidate’s educational record

Instead, agencies would want subject matter experts to review resumes. They would check for signs that candidates would have the skills the jobs require. What these signs may be would depend on an analysis of the jobs’ duties and anything else that might have a “rational relationship to performance in the position for which the examining agency is hiring.”

Shared certifications are already making a difference

In addition to emphasizing the value of skills, the legislation aims at streamlining government hiring through the use of shared certifications. Agencies have already tested the use of shared certifications and found them valuable.

Shared certifications work like this:

  • If one agency posts a position, it can certify any eligible candidates
  • When another agency posts a similar position, it can ask fellow agencies to share their lists of certified candidates

The bill calls for the creation of a centralized pool of certified candidates, as well as an online tool to access the information.

The upside is that agencies should be able to find candidates and fill their positions faster. The potential downside is that if a candidate fails to make the initial certification, even if he or she should, other agencies are likely to overlook that candidate in favor of those who have already received certification.

No system is flawless

The bill may sound good, but it has yet to pass the Senate. There is no guarantee that it will. A similar bill, the A Chance to Compete Act, previously failed to make its way through the Senate. Still, it is rare to see bipartisan efforts in this day and age, so that bipartisan support may just give the bill the edge it needs.

Even so, no system is perfect. While the legislation calls for subject matter expert reviews, agencies may not be able to have subject matter experts review every new position. And even if they mitigate any bias in algorithmic reviews, they may bring their own biases into the review process. Improvements to the system are always welcome, but it’s important for candidates to continue calling out discrimination when they find it.


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