Heinrich Leads Bipartisan Effort To Expedite Hiring At National Defense Labs, Test Ranges

Letter signed by a bipartisan group of 21 senators sent to Secretary of Defense Mattis calls for implementing new hiring authorities at DOD labs and test ranges to help fill important vacancies and improve military readiness

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich (D-N.M), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, led a group of bipartisan senators in sending a letter to Secretary of Defense James Mattis calling for the implementation of new hiring authorities at Department of Defense (DOD) labs and test ranges. The letter asks Secretary Mattis to expedite the federal hiring process for the DOD and allow the department to better compete for a limited supply of technical talent to fill important vacancies related to research, development, testing, and evaluation, and improve military innovation and readiness.   

Currently, it often takes DOD labs and test ranges months, even years, to extend an offer and hire new graduates.  As a result of the delays, many talented individuals often choose different career paths and work in the private sector.

“Although the federal government always has difficulty competing with the private sector when it comes to hiring civilians, particularly on a monetary level, we believe that recent graduates still want to serve their country and they should not have to wait months or years before they receive a job offer.  Defense laboratories and major test ranges have struggled to compete with the private sector to hire the best talent due to bureaucratic delays, and it is time that we help level the playing field,” wrote the senators

Senator Heinrich helped create a new direct-hire authority in last year’s defense authorization bill to give DOD labs unique hiring flexibility to allow them to better compete for technical talent. The new faster hiring authority allows DOD recruiters to hire graduates directly from university campuses, including UNM, New Mexico Tech, and New Mexico State. In a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing earlier this month, Senator Heinrich expressed concern about how these new authorities are being caught up in bureaucracy at the DOD and urged for their swift implementation.

“We believe these new authorities, as well as other direct hire flexibilities authorized in previous Defense Authorization Acts, will expedite the federal hiring process for the DoD and allow DOD to better compete for a limited supply of technical talent to fill important vacancies related to research, development, testing, and evaluation, to improve military innovation and readiness,” the senators continued in their letter

Also signing the letter are U.S. Senators Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), James Inhofe (R-Okla.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Mark Warner (D-Va.), Gary Peters (D-Mich.), David Perdue (R-Ga.), Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), and Todd Young (R-Ind.).  

A copy of the letter is available below and here.

The Honorable James Mattis

Secretary of Defense

1000 Defense Pentagon

Washington, DC 20301-1300

Dear Secretary Mattis:  

We write to urge you to implement and publish guidance related to direct hiring authorities pursuant to the S. 2943, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017 (Public Law No: 114-328).  These new authorities were signed into law in order to provide relief to the Department so that it could recruit and hire quality civilian talent while competing with the private sector for a limited pool of technical talent. 

Although the federal government always has difficulty competing with the private sector when it comes to hiring civilians, particularly on a monetary level, we believe that recent graduates still want to serve their country and they should not have to wait months or years before they receive a job offer.  Defense laboratories and major test ranges have struggled to compete with the private sector to hire the best talent due to bureaucratic delays, and it is time that we help level the playing field.  

Specifically, we request that the military services move quickly to publish guidance related to the following sections: 

Section 1106: Direct hire authority for the Department of Defense (DoD) for post-secondary students and recent graduates.

This section establishes a DoD civilian on-campus recruiting authority under title 10 as an alternative to the federal government-wide Pathways program (established by Executive Order 13562) and other Title 5 hiring authorities.  This proposal would facilitate DoD recruitment efforts to recruit students directly to civilian positions using a new hiring authority expressly designed for this purpose.  Hiring managers and recruiters, who already travel to specific schools with programs they want to target, would be able to involve candidates in a rigorous interview process, and now make conditional offers on the spot.  This would allow DoD to compete for highly qualified students and recent graduates.   

Section 1110: Direct hire authority for financial management experts in the Department of Defense workforce.

Under this new authority, each secretary of a military department has authority to appoint qualified candidates possessing a finance, accounting, management, or actuarial science degree to financial management, accounting, auditing, and actuarial positions within the Department of Defense workforce. The authority would be limited to 10 percent of the total number of finance, accounting, management, actuarial science, or financial management positions within each military department that are filled as of the close of the fiscal year last ending before the start of such calendar year.  

Section 1125: Temporary direct hire authority for domestic defense industrial base facilities, the Major Range and Test Facilities Base, and the Office of the Director of Operational Test and Evaluation.

Under this new authority, during fiscal years 2017 and 2018, the Secretary of Defense may directly hire qualified candidates to positions in the competitive service at any defense industrial base facility (including depots, arsenals, and shipyards) or the Major Range and Test Facilities Base, and in the office of the Director of Operational Test and Evaluation. 

We believe these new authorities, as well as other direct hire flexibilities authorized in previous Defense Authorization Acts, will expedite the federal hiring process for the DoD and allow DOD to better compete for a limited supply of technical talent to fill important vacancies related to research, development, testing, and evaluation, to improve military innovation and readiness.  We urge your swift implementation of these authorities. 

Thank you for your service and leadership. 

Sincerely,