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Chapter 3 - Findings on Internal Appointments including Higher Duties on a Temporary Basis

3.1       Introduction

During 2014 the Houses of the Oireachtas conducted three internal promotion competitions to the positions of:

  • Head Usher
  • Usher Grade II
  • Senior Researcher Law – Temporary Acting-up Assignment

The audit focussed on a detailed examination of the appointment process for temporary assignment to Senior Researcher Law. 

The report also includes an overview of the findings on the appointment process for Head Usher which was recently reviewed by the Commission following a Section 8 complaint.

3.2       Higher Duties on a Temporary Basis (Acting-up Appointments)

Appointments in an acting-up capacity are made in situations where it is necessary to assign a civil servant or public servant to higher duties on a temporary basis for a defined period to address a short-term business need.  All such appointments are subject to the Commission’s Code of Practice.

The Office Holder has confirmed that all appointments on an acting-up basis are made following a competitive process or alternatively existing panels from previous competitions are used to fill acting-up positions on a temporary basis.  This audit included the examination of the selection process used for an Acting-Up appointment as Senior Researcher Law.

3.3       Overview of Senior Researcher Law Competition

The Office Notice invited eligible candidates within the Houses of the Oireachtas Service for an interview-based competition for acting-up assignment to Senior Researcher (Law) in the Library & Research Service.

The notice stated that a current short term vacancy (for a period of no less than 7 months) would be filled and a panel would be established for a two year period for further short-term temporary or permanent appointments.

The notice set out details of eligibility requirements, the role and duties, qualifications and the key competencies for effective performance in the role (as per competency framework for Assistant Principal):

  • Leadership
  • Analysis & Decision Making
  • Management  & Delivery of Results
  • Interpersonal & Communication Skills
  • Drive & Commitment
  • Specialist Knowledge, Expertise & Self Development

Candidates were required to complete an application form including details of professional qualifications, employment record and experience relevant to the post.  They also had to provide examples under each of the competency headings to demonstrate their suitability to meet the challenges of the role which would form the basis of the selection process.  Candidates were also advised that ‘Communication and Written Skills’ would be assessed based on the application form and performance at interview.

The Office Notice advised that the recruitment and selection process for appointment to this position would be conducted in accordance with the Commission’s Code of Practice which candidates should familiarise themselves with.

Selection/Appointment Process

The Office Notice advised candidates that the selection process may include shortlisting, a preliminary interview and a competitive interview possibly to include a presentation and/or additional assessment exercise.

Three selection board members were asked to evaluate candidates; a Principal Officer serving in another Civil Service organisation and two internal officers including a Senior Researcher (Law).  The board members met in advance to discuss the job description and requirements.  They considered and agreed a draft criteria and marking scheme provided by HR Services.  They also agreed the areas they would question candidates on.

As there were only five applications received for this post it was decided not to undertake a shortlisting process and all five candidates were invited to interview.  The interviews focussed on the candidates’ career to-date with special emphasis on the achievements to prepare them for the role as well as assessing candidates against the competencies identified for effective performance in the role.  Candidates were advised in advance of the assessment and scoring system to be used.

A panel of candidates deemed suitable for appointment in order of merit was formed by the selection board.

Feedback

Following the interview process candidates were provided with the scores awarded and a summary comment by the selection board.  Verbal feedback was available on request.

Complaints and Requests for Review

Candidates were advised of the review procedures available to them under the Codes of Practice.  No requests for review under Section7 or Section 8 were received.

 

3.4       Overview of Head Usher Internal Promotion Competition

An Office Notice issued to staff on 6 January 2014 in the Houses of the Oireachtas advertising a confined competition for assignment to Head Usher and Deputy Head Usher posts arising before 30 June 2015.  The notice stated that the competition was to assess candidates’ suitability for appointment based on the application form, a competency-based interview and that appointments would be subject to normal health and sick leave regulations and PMDS ratings.

Staff were advised that two panels would be established from the competition placing candidates deemed best qualified in order of merit for appointment to; Panel 1 for the position of Head Usher and Panel 2 for the position of Deputy Head Usher. 

 

Selection Criteria

The Office Notice set out the four key competencies identified for the role;

·         Management and Delivery of Results

·         Effective Management, Teamwork and Group Leadership Skills

·         Analysis and Decision Making Skills

·         Staff, Public and Members Security and Safety

The application form required candidates to provide specific examples in respect of past or current experiences or achievements that demonstrated their abilities in each competency which would be explored at interview.  Candidates were also notified that each interview would involve questions in relation to their understanding of and approach to challenges facing the Service which may impact on the Superintendents Section and their ideas in relation to these challenges.

Briefing Session

The Office Notice advised candidates that a briefing session on the selection process would be held in advance of the interviews ‘in accordance with what is now standard practice’. 

The briefing covered all aspects of the competency-based interview process including an introduction to the interview board members and guidance on preparation for the interview. 

Assessment Process

There were three interview board members; a Superintendent and a Principal Officer from the Houses of the Oireachtas and an external Chairperson.  All board members were experienced interviewers.  They had previously sat on interview boards for similar positions in the Houses of the Oireachtas and were therefore fully familiar with the requirements of the job.  They met in advance of the interviews to discuss the structure of the interviews and to agree the assessment mechanism to be used.  It was agreed that a qualifying mark of 40% would be required under each competency heading.  Candidates were provided with the agreed scoring sheet in advance of the interviews.

Following each interview the board members discussed the candidate’s performance and agreed a score under each of the five headings.  Based on their discussions they also agreed feedback comments that were provided to the candidates together with the scores awarded.  Additional verbal feedback was also available on request.

Appointments/Panels

The Office Notice advised candidates that a panel would be established for the appointment of qualified candidates to the position of Head Usher. 

Following the interviews, the person placed highest on the order of merit was offered the vacant position. However contrary to undertakings in the Office Notice, no panel was established.  The Office Holder advised that it was required to take account of the DPER circular to all Civil Service Departments and Offices that issued on 14 January 2014 with regard to implementation arrangements for cross stream promotions in future competitions. This DPER circular issued on foot of a CPSA recommendation contained in its report on cross-streaming.  The Office Holder also advised that it was reminded of its responsibilities in this regard by IMPACT.   The Office Holder considered that the eligibility for promotion in the current competition fell outside the provisions of the DPER circular and that the best course of action was that a further competition should be held to fill vacancies that might arise beyond its existing vacancy.

Codes of Practice and Review Procedures

The Office Notice advised candidates that the appointment process would be conducted in accordance with the Commission’s Code of Practice which candidates should familiarise themselves with.   Details of the review procedures available to them were also provided. 

The Office Holder received one request for review under Section 8 which was subsequently examined by the Commission for Public Service Appointments which did not uphold the complaint.  It concluded that the appointment to the position of Head Usher was carried out in an open and consistent manner by experienced board members who were familiar with the role and through the use of agreed selection criteria for assessing candidates at interview.