USDS pilot to hire data scientists at 10 agencies closed in less than 2 days

The agencies plan to use subject matter expert-led assessments to determine if applicants qualify for the positions.
A meeting at the USDS headquarters. (USDS)

A joint hiring announcement for data scientists issued by 10 agencies lasted less than 48 hours before the 500-applicant limit was reached Tuesday evening.

Now subject matter experts (SMEs) and human resources specialists will set about assessing whether each applicant qualifies for one of the 63 openings between the agencies.

The U.S. Digital Service spent the last year-and-a-half on 10 SME Qualification Assessment (SMEQA) pilots across 17 agencies, and now use of the hiring strategy is being expanded. SMEQAs reduce the need for lengthy resumes in favor of shorter, industry-style ones that are three pages maximum. SMEs review resumes and written assessments and conduct structured interviews depending on how the particular SMEQA is structured.

“A government action like this, even though it’s a heavy lift for all of us, is so much better than having each individual agency have to do their own action with their own HR staff and their own SMEs — especially for agencies that might not have a huge pool of SMEs,” Amy Paris, product manager at USDS, told FedScoop. “This allows them to rely on other, larger agencies and get that expertise across government.”


USDS developed the announcement that went live Monday with help from the Office of Personnel Management, which ensured federal hiring regulations were followed, and the Federal Chief Data Officers Council, which helped recruit agencies, SMEs and applicants.

The agencies are accepting talent from the private sector as well as through merit promotion inside government while preserving veterans’ preference.

“A cross-agency posting like this is a great way to appeal to a larger group of talent,” said Nick Sinai, former U.S. deputy chief technology officer in the Obama administration. “Using actual data scientists in government to help screen talent, in partnership with HR, is a promising approach that I’m hopeful the Biden administration will accelerate.”

Applicants only had to apply once to be considered for all of the data scientist openings, which fall within the General Schedule-13 and -14 pay grades. And applicants certified through the SMEQA who consented can still be hired by other agencies for up to a year if they don’t land a job upfront.

In this case, USDS is testing some new techniques for screening applicants including a multiple-choice questionnaire with some technical questions. Everything USDS did was cleared by OPM.


“These are established policies and procedures,” Paris said. “And we’re just helping agencies take advantage of the flexibilities and rules that they already have available to them.”

USDS intends to analyze data it’s collecting throughout the process and will evaluate how comfortable agencies are with the applicants they select, as well as the hirees’ progress over time. Some of the agencies involved are discussing the possibility of creating cross-agency data science cohorts among the new hires.

The 10 participating agencies are: the Census Bureau; Consumer Financial Protection Bureau; Equal Employment Opportunity Commission; General Services Administration; State Department; Department of Transportation; Treasury Department; U.S. Agency for International Development; U.S. Department of Agriculture; and Department of Veterans Affairs.

“A lot of agencies are interested in improving their data science capabilities,” Paris said. “This is an emerging field, and government has a huge repository of data. How do we use it to best serve the American people?”

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