The Authority for SME-QA

In March 2019, the United States Digital Services (USDS) and OPM partnered to pilot a Technical Subject Matter Expert (SME) Hurdled Assessment process prior to the category ranking of applicants and placement on the selection certificate. The primary objective of this pilot was to enhance the quality of hires through a partnership between the agency hiring manager, human resources specialist, and SMEs using a documented multiple hurdle assessment process.

Here is the authority agencies have to use this process:

In OPM's Delegated Examining Operations Handbook:

  • When using multiple assessments, you can mark applicants unqualified after each stage and apply preference only to those who pass all hurdles. See pages 5-23 and 5-24 on “Scenario 5: Multiple Assessments – Cumulative Score (using a passing score).”
  • Minimum qualifications are not the same as a passing grade. Minimally qualified applicants who do not receive a passing grade do not qualify for preference points. (Footnote page 4-2)
  • The self-assessment portion of the occupational questionnaire is just one of many assessments that could be used. Previous SME-QA pilots did not use the self-assessment portion of the occupational questionnaire. (Page 2-18)
  • Certificates can be open for up to one year. Future SME-QA pilots where agencies will share certificates until all qualified applicants are given offers will be open for one year. (Page 6-18)
  • Agencies can limit the number of resume pages reviewed to determine qualifications as long as applicants are informed of the limit in the job announcement. (Page 4-2)

In OPM's Structured Interview guidance:

  • Structured interviews may have one interviewer but may also have two to three on the panel. SME-QA pilots used one SME and one applicant on phone interviews to reduce burden on participating SMEs. However, to mitigate any risks, we used structured interview questions, trained SMEs on interviews, and had SMEs transcribe the interview to the best of their ability. (Page 15)

In OPM's memorandum "Improving Federal Hiring through the Use of Effective Assessment Strategies to Advance Mission Outcomes":

  • It is not only legal but encouraged for HR to use SMEs to determine whether applicants are qualified.
  • SMEs may work with HR to identify and document the competencies and proficiency levels required to perform the essential functions of a job – a process commonly known as job analysis. Agencies should never cut and paste competencies from OPM's qualification standards. See also the Delegated Examining Operations Handbook page 4-23.