Job applicants, hirers urge fairer, simpler tests


April 20, 1994|By Ellen Gamerman | Ellen Gamerman,States News Service

WASHINGTON -- The General Accounting Office (GAO) recently reviewed a program intended to test applicants for entry-level federal jobs in the U.S. government's ranks, and found it time-consuming, burdensome and inefficient.

The program, the GAO found, falls far short of just about everybody's expectations -- from the applicants seeking jobs to the people who do the hiring.

Known as Administrative Careers With America (ACWA), the program seeks to find qualified applicants for entry-level jobs in more than 100 government occupations.

Although the program is designed to speed and simplify the hiring process, the GAO report released this week found that federal managers rarely use it.

"Compared to other hiring methods, agency officials responding to our questionnaire felt that ACWA was time-consuming to use," says the report by the GAO, the investigative arm of Congress. "They also felt that ACWA was inflexible, making it difficult to obtain quality candidates or candidates of their choice."

The ACWA program consists of six written tests and is intended to give all people with college degrees, or the equivalent, a fair shot at a federal job. While other hiring programs target groups such as veterans or current federal employees, ACWA was designed to be a major vehicle for college graduates to enter the government work force.

But that hasn't been the reality.

More than 300,000 applicants took ACWA tests, and although 182,305 passed, only 3,228 were hired, according to the GAO report, which covered the 2 1/2 -year period ending Dec. 31, 1992.

The report says that more than 19,400 entry-level jobs were filled through other hiring programs in fiscal years 1991 and 1992.

Reassignments, transfers, promotions and other shifts of employees filled another 15,000 vacancies in calendar years 1991 and 1992, the report says.

The report says that although applicants often score high on ACWA tests, managers hire more directly through programs that single out candidates with high college grade-point averages, or who are bilingual.

The Office of Personnel Management (OPM), which administers ACWA and oversees all federal government hiring and firing, is taking "immediate action" to correct some of the problems fund by the GAO, OPM Director James B. King wrote in a letter to the GAO.

He said OPM wants to make the ACWA program available to all applicants for government jobs and give agencies greater leeway in interpreting applicants' scores. OPM also wants to make sure that all applicants get interviews, a major problem because even applicants who get perfect scores on the tests have trouble getting interviews.

OPM also suggested testing for a specific job at a set time and location to better target specific applicants and speed up the hiring process.

In interviews with the GAO, 390 job seekers complained about the hiring system and said that although they scored relatively high on the exam, that did not get them jobs.

"I took all six tests," says one applicant who scored a high 109 but did not get a job. "Stop kidding people like me. False hope is worse than no hope at all."

"At 97 percent, I thought I might get a nibble, and got nix! Zippo!" says another.

"I felt as though my name was thrown into a black hole, never to surface again," says a third.

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