HHS and EPA Can Improve Practices Under Special Hiring Authorities

July 9, 2012

The Department of Health and Human Services' (HHS) use of special hiring authorities under 42 U.S.C. §§ 209(f) and (g) has increased in recent years. Nearly all HHS Title 42 employees work in one of three HHS operating divisions: the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Title 42 employees at HHS serve in a variety of areas, including scientific and medical research support and in senior, director-level leadership positions. At NIH, one-quarter of all employees, and 44 percent of its researchers and clinical practitioners, were Title 42 appointees. HHS reported that Title 42 enables the agency to quickly fill knowledge gaps so medical research can progress and to respond to medical emergencies. HHS further reported Title 42 provides the compensation flexibility to compete with the private sector. In 2010, 1,461 HHS Title 42 employees earned salaries over Executive Level IV ($155,500 in 2010). HHS does not have reliable data to manage and provide oversight of its use of Title 42 because the section authority used to hire Title 42 employees is not consistently recorded into personnel systems. Moreover, HHS did not consistently adhere to certain sections of its 209(f) policy. For example, the policy states that 209(f) appointments may only be made after non-Title 42 authorities have failed to yield a qualified candidate, but GAO found few instances where such efforts were documented. HHS has recently issued updated 209(f) policy that addresses most of these issues. HHS is developing agencywide policy for appointing and compensating fellows under 209(g), but it is not clear the policy will address important issues such as documenting the basis for compensation. Since 2006, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has used section 209(g) to appoint 17 employees. Title 42 employees lead scientific research initiatives and some manage or direct a division or office. According to EPA officials, Title 42 provides the flexibility to be competitive in recruiting top experts who are also sought by private industry, academia, and others. Also, Title 42 provides the appointment flexibility needed to align experts with specific skills to changing scientific priorities. Fifteen of EPA's 17 Title 42 employees earned salaries over Executive Level IV in 2010. EPA appointment and compensation practices were generally consistent with its guidance; however, EPA does not have postappointment procedures in place to ensure Title 42 employees meet ethics requirements to which they have previously agreed. 

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