Let's take a closer look at Non-Competitive Eligibility

Have you heard of Executive Order 11103?

Of course you have, though you may know it by another name: Noncompetitive eligibility (NCE).

Executive Order 11103 is the animating force behind NCE. It allows the Office of Personnel Management -basically, the HR department of the Federal government- to bend the formal hiring rules for Peace Corps Volunteers who completed their tours and can produce the documentation to prove it.

EO 11103 allows you to bypass the competitive hiring process, as long as the agency wants you and OPM says you’re qualified. For posted jobs, your application goes into a vastly smaller pool than those from the general public and you have a much better shot at scoring an interview. Formal hiring requirements, such as the act of publicly posting the job in the first place, become optional. Basically, if you are minimally qualified for a position, a manager can hire you on the spot, which is why networking is so important. The department saves time and energy, and you get a job.

That’s Section 1, which deals with the competitive service. Section 2 extends the same considerations to the other side of the Federal government: the excepted service. Broadly speaking, the excepted service covers any federal job for which the standard competitive hiring process would be impractical, thus allowing the agency to set its own standards. Not just the realm of political appointees and secret agents, the excepted service includes auditors, law enforcement, regulators, international development professionals and other specialized roles. Section 2 allows the head of any Executive Branch agency to appoint anyone “who passes such examination as such agency head may prescribe.”

For most of us with just a couple years of Peace Corps service under our professional belts, the range of jobs for which we meet the minimum qualifications is rather narrow. Rarely does the word “noncompetitive” show up in a USAJOBS search. While NCE can be invoked for almost any job, many hiring managers and staffing personnel remain unaware of it. Oftentimes it takes a personal connection to successfully leverage it.

There are dozens of RPCV employee resource groups within Federal agencies, and many of them are working to educate their staffing directors to the advantages of using NCE to quickly recruit good talent. Others are reexamining EO 11103’s application to the excepted service. For instance, the 16,000 or so Foreign Service positions within the State Department do not currently incorporate this order, and while you would expect that RPCVs would have an edge in the selection process, there are no formal mechanisms in place to ensure this.

America invests a lot to build RPCVs as a diverse and civic-minded cohort with incomparable international expertise. Fixing policies like this would expand this investment where it makes the most sense. As more and more RPCVs prove their worth as talented public servants, discussions around NCE will only increase.  

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