The New Orleans District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is looking for 150 to 250 engineers over the next five years. It is cutting bureaucracy and adding perks to entice qualified candidates to help with the more than $14 billion worth of work on tap in Louisiana by 2011.

On March 14, NOD was given permission to directly hire personnel, something no other district can do. The change was made in response to the loss of many professionals from the local office who moved away just as the district was hit with a massive surge of work following Hurricane Katrina.

“We’re sitting on approximately 300 vacant seats, with a huge percentage in the engineering and science profession,” says Cheryl Weber, the district’s civilian personnel officer. Direct-hire authority has been granted for structural, mechanical, electrical, hydraulic, geotechnical and civil engineers. Applicants must have a degree, a license and five to eight years of experience; a Ph.D. or three years of graduate education leading to a Ph.D. Candidates may be eligible for recruitment bonus incentives of up to 25% of the annual rate of base pay.

“This gives us the capability of competing with private-sector firms that we didn’t have previously,” says John Bivona, assistant chief of NOD’s engineering division. “We can directly obtain resumes and I can respond immediately with feedback. It’s a tremendous advantage in the hiring potential for where we need it most, in mid- to senior-level positions.”

Bivona believes the deal is enticing. “We’ve got an unprecedented workload that offers the experience of working with state-of-the-art technology, national experts and rewriting design criteria in an expedited scenario,” he says. That kind of experience will be a significant addition to a resume, he says, adding that the new hires will also have the satisfaction of helping to rebuild the city and of “knowing they are doing the right thing.”

John Grieshaber, chief of execution support for the Hurricane Protection Office, also thinks the opportunity is attractive. “In the world of engineering, there are a whole lot of things in design that don’t get built. Everything we are working on is funded and will get built,” he says. “You may work your whole career and not work on one multimillion dollar project, but we’ve got almost $15 billion worth of big projects.”

Application processing under the normal hiring system can take 45 days to as long as six or seven months before a manager is authorized to offer a job, Grieshaber says. By then, many applicants have gone away. “When you don’t get back to them, they assume you changed your mind,” Grieshaber says.