A Revolution in Public Personnel Administration: The Growth of Web-Based Recruitment and Selection Processes in the Federal Service

Article excerpt

Employee recruitment, examination and selection are among the most essential public personnel management activities. These are the processes through which merit is measured and employees are brought into the public service. The quality of the public workforce and the effectiveness of public programs will depend, in large part, on the manner in which these core functions are performed. Under traditional civil service arrangements, much of the work associated with these tasks was the responsibility of a centralized personnel agency such as the U.S. OPM or an analogous agency in state or local government. Centralization, especially with respect to the examination of qualifications, was intended to promote equity and consistency in selection processes. Centralized systems have been disparaged, however, for the amount of delay and inefficiency they impose. (1) Line agencies, it has been argued, are better positioned than central personnel offices to design and implement job-specific examination mechanisms and can more expeditiously carry out the selection process if they are given the flexibility to do so. Personnel reforms, beginning especially in the late 1970s and early 1980s, addressed the need to improve the efficiency and timeliness of the hiring process as a means of increasing the probability of attracting and hiring high-quality job candidates. (2) The result has been the significant decentralization of authority for examination and related tasks in many jurisdictions, including the federal government. The greater efficiency that may derive from increased flexibility in a decentralized system must be balanced, however, by a continuing concern for equity in the exercise of discretion by line agencies and their managers. (3)

As the movement toward greater decentralization of the recruitment and examination process gained momentum, new innovations emerged involving the use of Internet-based technologies, which hold the promise of combining the advantages of centralization and coordination with the improved efficiency and timeliness that has been sought through decentralization. One of the largest of these new automated personnel recruitment and examination systems currently in place is the federal government's Recruitment One-Stop project organized by OPM. Recruitment One-Stop can briefly be described as an attempt to both centralize many of the government's myriad recruitment processes and leverage current technologies available to advertise, recruit and fill positions throughout the government. If this initiative, currently underway, realizes it goals, its implications for the future of personnel staffing could prove to be quite significant.

This article provides an analysis of the federal government's efforts to implement its automated recruitment and examination processes. The contextual background for Recruitment One-Stop is reviewed, the history of leveraging technology for recruitment and selection purposes in the federal government is discussed, an overview of the goals and objectives of the Recruitment One-Stop project is provided, and examples of automated recruitment systems being utilized at other levels of government are detailed. Assessments of Recruitment One-Stop by both the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) are considered as well.

Contextual Background

At a basic level, recruitment for the public service requires government organizations to communicate information regarding the availability of public service jobs to large numbers of people. Given this need, the Internet and electronic communication systems would seem ideally suited to facilitate the recruitment process. Indeed, there has been research in recent years stressing the benefits of public sector use of online recruitment technologies. One study, for example, outlines a number of reasons why public organizations should utilize employment Web pages. (4) Among the more important reasons are the cost savings over traditional recruitment strategies, the ability to more adequately describe the unique qualities of individual employers, the fact that Web pages can provide positive first impressions to applicants, and the ability of Web pages to attract individuals who better fit specific organizational needs. …