Hiring process at health care agency gets a makeover

FEDERAL WORKERS

October 16, 2005|By MELISSA HARRIS

Wanted at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services: "Applicant must have at least 52 weeks experience at the previous GS level. No promotion potential. No relocation expenses paid."

The online job posting confused and discouraged applicants, say human resources consultants at the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service, which tries to attract young people to federal government jobs.

The CMS, a Woodlawn-based health care agency, knew it had a problem, so it volunteered for a pilot program at the partnership called Extreme Hiring Makeover, modeled after television shows that transform everything from a person's nose to a family's home.

"Every agency has hiring problems," said Max Stier, partnership president. "And it took courage for CMS and two other agencies to admit it and do something about it."

The partnership and its team, including people from CMS and Monster Government Solutions, first decided what they needed to fix.

The agency had 64 steps in its hiring process. It took three months on average to hire an employee. Managers had little input in writing job descriptions or setting qualifications. And who would want to apply for a job that sounded like a dead end?

"CMS would put out a vacancy hoping to get the best-qualified candidate and, after a considerable time, they wouldn't find anyone fitting the bill they were looking for," said Erica Woods, a program manager at the partnership. "Sometimes they'd have to repost the position."

With some retooling, the partnership and CMS cut the hiring period to 22 days. The applicant pool grew to 227 people from 53. A large number of them agreed to take a new 45-minute skills test to determine how much they knew about the agency. That replaced the previous yes-or-no question "Do you know Medicare?"

Good test scores helped justify hires, including Rachel DaCunha, a 33-year-old Baltimore County resident with two master's degrees, who left a lucrative job with CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield to work for CMS in May. She received a job offer within a month of filing her application online and helps shape Tennessee's Medicaid reform efforts.

"I wanted to have more opportunities for career growth," DaCunha said. "It's a tradeoff: career potential and an opportunity to make a difference versus money."

Most important, experts taught CMS how to make itself appealing and how to sell a job as a steppingstone to a more important position at the agency, the largest purchaser of health care in the world.

The postings and other promotional material needed to avoid government jargon. Jobs that weren't dead ends weren't supposed to sound like ones. And, although some rules needed to be mentioned, they didn't need to be stated upfront as the "the welcome mat," said Katie Malague, another program manager at the partnership who worked with the agency.

The new posting said: "Help shape America's health care agenda. Ensure the uninsured are covered. Touch the lives of 82 million individuals by giving them access to health care. These are the challenges we face every day."

Much, much better.

Drugs and the FBI

The FBI is weighing whether to relax rules on previous use of marijuana and other drugs by its applicants, according to the Associated Press.

Some senior FBI managers have been frustrated that they could not hire applicants who said they had occasionally used marijuana in college but, in some cases, performed top-secret work at other government agencies, such as the Fort Meade-based National Security Agency or the State Department.

The proposed changes at the FBI would not apply to the "G-Men," who conduct most criminal and terrorism investigations, but would loosen restrictions for intelligence analysts, linguists, computer specialists, and other occupations..

Current rules prohibit the FBI from hiring anyone who has used marijuana in the previous three years or more than 15 times total. They also ban anyone who has used other illegal drugs, such as cocaine or heroin, in the previous 10 years or more than five times total.

The new FBI proposal would judge applicants based on their "whole person" rather than limiting drug-related experiences to an arbitrary number, according to the Associated Press. A ban on current drug use would continue, but managers would consider the circumstances of an applicant's previous drug use, such as age and likelihood of future use.

The relaxed standard is in use at most other U.S. intelligence agencies. The NSA's Web site says applicants may be subjected to a urine test and could be denied a job based on a positive test or refusal to take one, but it lists no specific standards for prior drug use.

In Maryland, 15 federal intelligence agencies and local and state law enforcement agencies compete for recruits.

The Associated Press contributed to this item.

Federal Workers welcomes your ideas and comments. The writer can be reached at melissa.harris@baltsun.com or 410-715-2885. Recent back issues can be read at baltimoresun.com/federal.

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