On the day it was set to expire, the Coronavirus Schedule A Hiring Authority was renewed for likely the final time, the Office of Personnel Management announced on March 1.
Three years ago this month, OPM gave federal agencies the power to expedite hiring of workers into the excepted service at any grade level to fill employment needs arising out of the pandemic. Since then, the authority has been extended several times, as it was again on Wednesday.
Now, it will expire when the public health emergency is expected to end on May 11.
“OPM understands that during this time, agencies need more tools to conduct strategic, targeted hiring for specific, short-term roles to meet mission and/or hiring needs,” wrote Director Kiran Ahuja in the memo.
Hiring authorities were one of several emergency resources used in 2020 and authorized by the $2 trillion CARES Act in response to the pandemic. Federal agencies received supplemental funds to sustain crucial public operations through the pandemic and dispatch employees to the front lines. In March 2020, OPM also authorized the use of the COVID-19 Schedule A hiring authority to fill positions for up to one year with a possible extension.
Schedule A bypassed certain requirements, like public posting on USAJobs, for example, as a way to speed up the hiring process.
The Schedule A pandemic hiring authority enabled the Department of Health and Human Services, Small Business Administration, the Department of Veterans Affairs and three other agencies to hire a total of nearly 2,000 federal employees from March to December 2020, according to the Government Accountability Office.
HHS data shows the largest number of these hires were for medical support assistants, nursing assistants and security guards. The VA said it used the authority to onboard health workers for COVID-19 screening efforts.
Even agencies that made fewer than 10 hires under the specialty Schedule A told GAO that it sped up the process and would likely be used again.
Schedule A was tailored to respond to the pandemic, but it had been in use already as a larger non-competitive hiring tool for applicants with disabilities. OPM allows several other hiring authorities to fill high-demand or specialty jobs.
There were 29,000 total Schedule A appointments, according to OPM employment data.
Once this authority expires, OPM says agencies will have to rely on other hiring tools to fulfill lingering COVID-19 work.
Molly Weisner is a staff reporter for Federal Times where she covers labor, policy and contracting pertaining to the government workforce. She made previous stops at USA Today and McClatchy as a digital producer, and worked at The New York Times as a copy editor. Molly majored in journalism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.