A job with Uncle Sam? Line forms in cyberspace

April 12, 1994|By Ellen Gamerman | Ellen Gamerman,States News Service

ARLINGTON, Va. -- So you want to work for the federal government? Getting your foot in the door was never this easy. You don't even have to change out of your pajamas.

Just pick up the telephone. Use the keypad to punch in your experience, education, job specialties. Chitchat with the computerized voice on the other end. It can't even be surly to you -- that's not in the program.

In the latest idea from the Clinton administration's government streamlining plan, the government unveiled its first fully automated personnel office yesterday.

An elaborate voice mail system and computer uplinks could be the way thousands of federal employees seek promotions or transfers and the way hopeful recruits find a spot in the government ranks.

This technology, as well as video consoles that job-hunt and color monitors that review applications, was displayed yesterday at the grand opening of the federal government's first "paperless personnel office."

"This is a future we've talked about for some time," said James King, director of the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), standing amid talking computers, ultra-smart phone systems and multicolored video displays. "We're here and it's now."

The OPM's version of the automotive showroom, the demonstration office located near the Pentagon is run by the OPM and the Department of Defense. It is designed to inspire other federal agencies to streamline and computerize their personnel offices.

What already exists in cyberspace for job hunters includes:

* An electronic bulletin board that allows anyone with a personal computer and modem to access current federal job listings -- including salaries and hiring information. Information seekers can call 1-912-757-3100 for computer access.

* A telephone line that allows job seekers to process applications through their telephone keypads. That number is 1-800-800-8776.

* A 24 hour-a-day federal employment information line. The number is 1-912-757-3000.

"We want to show the rest of the government that this is not pie in the sky," said Elaine Kamarck of the administration's National Performance Review. "This is not passing fancy. This is real."

For applicants in the video generation, Mr. King promised, government job openings can be explored with "the touch of a button."

With the toll-free telephone line, it takes minutes to complete an application for a new job -- or even bid for a promotion.

The phone-in system can save days of work. Currently, federal employees must complete "the dreaded 171 form" -- as Mr. King calls it -- an application that can take several days to complete and hours to review. When one position attracts 50 applicants, that paperwork can be oppressive, Mr. King said, adding that someday he hopes to obliterate the long-winded government document altogether.

"There are a lot of personnel people who don't want to give it up," said OPM's associate director Leonard Klein. "They've been doing it this way for many years, and they want to hang on to what they know."

Massive though they may be, the written government application forms allow individual applicants to distinguish themselves with short essays. Will a computerized personnel system turn the federal work force into a cadre of faceless drones?

No way, said Mr. King.

"You get yourself on-line, and that's how we find you," he said, adding that interviews will still be required. "In the final analysis, we'll always want to take that look."

Nevertheless, the personnel office of the future can look a bit impersonal at times. On one computer, the applicant's life experience is reduced to a bunch of computer-readable dots -- filled in with a No. 2 pencil -- which determine his or her "rate and rank." Each sheet is fed to a high-speed scanner and then processed in a computer. The better your dot sheet, the more money the computer decides you should make.

For Van Yee, the OPM staffing specialist running the scanner, the new technology has it's benefits. It used to take one hour to rank an application. But not anymore.

"It's so easy," he said. "Now we can do 1,500 applications in just one hour."

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