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House Passes Federal Hiring Reform Bill

The united states capitol building in washington, dc.

​The Chance to Compete Act—legislation that alters the recruiting and hiring process for federal government jobs to incorporate skills-based assessments—passed the U.S. House of Representatives by a vote of 422-2 on Jan. 24.

The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) championed the legislation, which introduces HR best practices such as the use of candidate assessments to improve employee performance and retention.

The bill would prioritize candidate evaluations based on knowledge, skills, abilities and competencies while limiting the use of education when determining if someone is qualified for a role. It also facilitates the use of more robust assessments over the self-assessment questionnaires currently used for nearly all federal jobs.

"SHRM is proud to support the Chance to Compete Act because it removes barriers to federal jobs and implements best practices for hiring," said SHRM Chief of Staff, Head of Public Affairs and Corporate Secretary Emily M. Dickens. "Hiring practices that overlook qualified candidates inhibit the ability of the federal government to fill vital roles. Given the significant demographic changes in our country, improving the federal government's ability to attract talent and identify the right candidates is essential."

The bill was introduced by Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., the chair of the House Education and Workforce Committee, and co-sponsored by Reps. Gerry Connolly, D-Va.; James Comer, R-Ky.; and Ro Khanna, D-Calif.

"The Chance to Compete Act of 2023 builds upon a record of bipartisan support and proven success in codifying key skills-based hiring reforms," Foxx said. "Under this legislation, federal agencies will be able to best distinguish practical performers in a field of candidates and focus on hiring individuals who can perform at the highest level in the jobs they assume within the federal government."

Specifically, the Chance to Compete Act:

  • Defines acceptable job assessments used in competitive-service hiring to include skills-based assessments.
  • Authorizes agencies to use subject-matter experts to administer skills-based assessments. A successful pilot program conducted in 2019 by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and the U.S. Digital Service allowed subject-matter experts to assess applicants to determine if they could perform the duties of the role, while HR maintained responsibility for the hiring process and compliance.
  • Allows agencies to share assessment information about job candidates when they are working to fill similar positions, decreasing time-to-hire for all applicants and making the federal hiring process more efficient.
  • Institutes "talent teams" in federal HR offices—ensuring each agency has a key group of staff who specialize in supporting the development and facilitation of skills-based assessments and improving hiring examinations.

"Implementing the changes set forth in the Chance to Compete Act will improve federal hiring processes, expanding the eligible talent pool and ensuring that those with needed skills are brought into the federal fold in a transparent and efficient manner," said William Shackelford, president of the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association in Alexandria, Va.

"Current federal hiring processes are stifling the government's ability to bring in the talent necessary for it to effectively serve the American people. Federal agencies currently suffer from mission-critical skills gaps. Competitive hiring practices are central to the concept of merit-based hiring, whereby employees are hired based on their qualifications. This bill addresses those issues by providing commonsense steps to improve competitive hiring practices and increase hiring efficiency."

Similar legislation made progress last Congress, clearing the House and advancing in the Senate, but it ultimately did not pass.

Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., introduced a separate bill last September that would encourage private-sector employers to prioritize job applicants' skills and competencies over educational requirements. The Advancing Skills-Based Hiring Act sought to boost skills-based hiring by first ensuring an employer's pre-employment assessments are compliant with the law. 

The pivot to skills-based hiring among federal agencies builds on a 2020 executive order from the Trump administration, meant to modernize federal recruitment practices. Key provisions included modifying qualification and classification standards to eliminate degree requirements where possible and eliminating the reliance on applicant self-assessment questionnaires.

The Biden administration has followed suit, with OPM issuing guidance on skills-based hiring last May and planning to expand the initiative soon.

"Skills-based hiring will expand talent pools by making it easier for applicants without a bachelor's degree to demonstrate their skills and will help remove barriers to employment for historically underrepresented groups," said OPM Director Kiran Ahuja.


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