by Natalia Castro
Employees should be hired based on their ability to complete the tasks they have been assigned and nothing else. Yet under the Obama administration, hiring practices for the federal government were moved away from merit to fulfill goals irrelevant to the positions. Policies intended to simplify the federal government application process had the consequence of increasing politicization in the federal workforce and overburdening human resource offices.
In May 2010, former President Barack Obama issued a memorandum on Improving the Federal Recruitment and Hiring Process. This memorandum directed agencies to simplify their application process to “eliminate any requirement that applicants respond to essay-style questions” and allowed individuals to submit resumes and cover letters or complete “simple, plain language” instead.
The result was a flood of new applications.
According to Americans for Limited Government President Rick Manning, the goal was not just to increase hiring in the federal government but to increase political hiring. Manning notes, “The 2010 memorandum was always intended to give Obama supporters an easier path to enter the civil service. By overwhelming human resource departments with applications, it accomplished just that.”
This was the first of several presidential orders to reshape the federal workforce.
In August 2011, Executive Order 135583 entitled Establishing a Coordinated Government-wide Initiative to Promote Diversity and Inclusion in the Federal Workforce required the Office of Personnel Management and related offices to produce a “strategic plan” to promote diversity across the federal workforce.
While a simple application process and a more diverse staff might seem like good goals, the actual impact of these initiatives was a decrease in merit-based hiring and an unqualified federal workforce.
Under the Obama administration, offices such as the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in the Department of Transportation came under fire by groups such as the National Black Coalition of Federal Aviation Employees for being “too white,” according to Michael Pearson, an attorney representing a man suing the FAA over their diversity test.
As a result, the FAA required air traffic control candidates to complete a “biographical questionnaire.” “Failing” the questionnaire immediately disqualified a candidate for an air traffic control position no matter how otherwise qualified for the position the individual was.
Fox News obtained a copy of the questionnaire and how it was scored. The documents revealed that candidates received more points for diversity than competency in their field.
According to Tucker Carlson who reported on the issue for Fox, candidates who received their lowest high school grade in science and candidates who have been unemployed for three years received 10 points. Conversely, candidates who said they knew a great deal about aircraft control received only five points and trained pilots received only two points.
Previously the FAA gave preference to candidates who completed air traffic controller training courses or had relevant military experience; under the Obama program, these candidates were rejected if their biographical questionnaire does not earn them enough diversity points. By focusing on diversity instead of competency, the Obama administration placed millions of lives at risk by not just allowing, but encouraging, unqualified personnel to control our air traffic.
William Perry Pendley of the Mountain States Legal Foundation, a public-interest law firm that is representing individuals in a discrimination lawsuit against the federal government for these hiring practices told the Wall Street Journal, “The most shocking thing to me is that nobody in that room when this change was decided—not the secretary of transportation, not the head of the FAA—raised his hand and said that we’re talking about airline safety here. We’re not talking about somebody driving a truck. We’re talking about somebody guiding an aircraft into snowbound Chicago.”
The focus for hiring should be placing the most qualified applicants in a position to succeed, but the Obama administration lost sight of this goal in favor of political victories. This has left the Trump administration with unqualified and politicized personnel across the federal workforce; considering the President has put a net hiring freeze in place, now is the perfect time for agencies to correct their hiring policies. In order to ever achieve an efficient federal workforce driven by public service, our government needs to place the brightest and best candidates in open positions, not the most politically advantageous ones.
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Natalia Castro is a contributing editor at Americans for Limited Government.