One of the more important functions of NASCOE is to guide employees on matters of HR issues. As the Business Center has matured following the FPAC reorganization, NASCOE has been working with FSA to educate Departmental leadership on the CO hiring process. With recent NASCOE budget wins in Congress and the subsequent increase in hiring, NASCOE has recently received several inquiries on the topic of County Office (CO) Hiring. Specifically, members are wanting to know what is the current administrative structure of CO hiring since Departmental reorganization.
While the GS system was introduced first, CO hiring authority was created later by Congress to provide a local alternative that responds rapidly and efficiently to the agricultural community. In this way, the CO system is the original “direct hiring” authority. NASCOE and FSA are both very proud of this system and both support it in its entirety. FSA has provided extra resources to increase integrity and decrease the time it takes to onboard employees. It takes about 80 days between the job announcement and full onboarding for CO while it takes roughly 125 days for GS. These timeframes are expected to decrease with FSA providing increased administrative teamwork for CO hiring and direct hiring authority for GS hiring. The biggest “hang-up” in hiring at this time is the required security background check.
At present, CO hiring is administered by FSA as part of a team effort that involves the CED, the STO and the National Office. The STO and the National Office assist with certain administrative functions of hiring while the CED and COC retain ultimate responsibility for interviewing and hiring a qualified candidate. In an effort to clarify and clear up confusion about the CO hiring process, NASCOE is working to INFORM and EDUCATE membership about the current hiring process which FSA has implemented. To ensure that local roles and responsibilities are clear, NASCOE is asking local CEDs and COC’s to remember the following important aspects of CO hiring:
- CED’s and COC’s have the responsibility to hire qualified candidates.
- CED’s should be granted access to staffing software, where they can view candidates who have submitted complete information (this step doesn’t apply to COC’s because they do not have access to government IT systems).
- CED’s and COC’s have the responsibility to choose candidates which they want to interview. These candidates come from the list of qualified applicants who have submitted all necessary documentation during the application process. Completeness of application is determined by STO’s.
- CED’s and COC’s may inquire with their STO why certain candidates were determined to have incomplete applications.
CED’s have the responsibility to schedule candidate interviews.COC’s should be involved in scheduling timeframes for interviews, however, it is typical for the STO or the District Director to assist the COC with this step.
Although the CO hiring system remains largely intact, there are some concerns from the field about the STO completing the review of application completeness. Also concerns exist with increased time spent on background investigations. NASCOE has already begun to address those concerns with management as we move forward.
Another common HR question that NASCOE receives centers around the topic of compensation and pay for work. We all agree that it is very important to serve our customers and deliver benefits to them in this tough farm economy. With condensed timeframes for achieving sign-up, and extremely high workload, we have a reputation for doing whatever it takes to serve our producers. Having said that, as government employees we must remember that we should never be working without recording our time and receiving compensation.
Working for no compensation is not advised because:
- It’s illegal
- It creates liability
- AND work measurement becomes a concern (in the long run, not recording our time skews COF workload numbers and results in less staff to assist our producers and decreased customer service)
Recently, while participating in a Congressional hearing, NASCOE was told by a member of Congress that FSA employees always stay late and get the job done. This is a reputation that should make us all proud. There have been and always will be times when FSA’s service becomes a critical function and employees are asked to work extra hours to help our farmers. Recently the national office has announced overtime is available for county office employees if approved by SED’s. Ensuring these extra hours are compensated ensures that our producers (and the public) realize the required amount of work needed to get the job done. We are hopeful that management will allow tools such as overtime, comp time and credit time to help serve our customers.