People Problems

tclark@govexec.com

Timothy B. ClarkIt's too bad that government's reputation remains so poor that our presidential candidates can't bring themselves to promise much-needed reforms. The federal human capital crisis thus remains out of public view during this year's campaigns.

In the private sector, by contrast, top executives are closely focused on making sure they have the workers they need to compete. Corporate leaders know they must be "field marshals in the war for talent," as William Taylor, founding editor of Fast Company, the hot young business magazine, told 1,200 listeners at this summer's Excellence in Government 2000 conference.

Here in Washington, more than two decades have drifted by since government last undertook a full-scale review of its personnel systems. Back in the dark ages of 1978, when the last service reform act was written, personal computers had yet to come into common use.

Now, federal agencies are suffering. The rush to downsize has proceeded with hardly a nod toward work force planning. While talent retires from the top of the hierarchy, hiring freezes prevent replenishment at the lower ranks. Emergency remedies have been piecemeal-exceptions for the Federal Aviation Administration or for a few high-level IRS jobs, bonuses or quality-of-life initiatives in the military. Studies cutting across many agencies show human resources management as their principal management challenge: Government Executive's Government Performance Project has given the 20 agencies it has studied lower grades in human resources than in any other management function.

A necessary precursor to reform must be acknowledgement of the problem. And here, progress can be reported. Talk in the plenary and breakout sessions and in the hallways at the Excellence in Government conference focused more on people problems than any other topic. Experts who spoke at the conference, including Paul Light of the Brookings Institution and Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio, were forthright in declaring a crisis. Comptroller General David Walker has done so as well, as Susannah Figura reports in her cover story this month.

Figura's article, "The Human Touch," details the kinds of personnel reforms Walker is attempting to bring to the General Accounting Office-reforms that would make it easier than under present rules to shape the workforce to meet present and future needs. Walker has had difficulty this summer getting the legislative changes he needs, but at this writing seems likely to succeed before Congress adjourns. If he does, GAO's reforms could set an example for the rest of government.

Voinovich seems ready to wage a high-profile campaign for change. His Governmental Affairs Subcommittee on Government Management, Restructuring and the District of Columbia has held hearings on the issue and will issue a report this fall. Recommendations likely will be comprehensive, ranging from recruiting and training to motivation and incentives for retention. The former big-city mayor and Ohio governor, a serious student of government management, told the conference that when his report lands on the new President's desk, it may be titled "Your First Crisis: Human Capital."

Although the presidential candidates have not addressed these issues directly, neither have they indulged in the usual practice of running against the government they seek to lead. Thus one may hope that the political climate in 2001 might be unusually hospitable to reform. Tim sig2 5/3/96

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
FROM OUR SPONSORS
JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Close [ x ] More from GovExec
 
 

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Forecasting Cloud's Future

    Conversations with Federal, State, and Local Technology Leaders on Cloud-Driven Digital Transformation

    Download
  • The Big Data Campaign Trail

    With everyone so focused on security following recent breaches at federal, state and local government and education institutions, there has been little emphasis on the need for better operations. This report breaks down some of the biggest operational challenges in IT management and provides insight into how agencies and leaders can successfully solve some of the biggest lingering government IT issues.

    Download
  • Communicating Innovation in Federal Government

    Federal Government spending on ‘obsolete technology’ continues to increase. Supporting the twin pillars of improved digital service delivery for citizens on the one hand, and the increasingly optimized and flexible working practices for federal employees on the other, are neither easy nor inexpensive tasks. This whitepaper explores how federal agencies can leverage the value of existing agency technology assets while offering IT leaders the ability to implement the kind of employee productivity, citizen service improvements and security demanded by federal oversight.

    Download
  • IT Transformation Trends: Flash Storage as a Strategic IT Asset

    MIT Technology Review: Flash Storage As a Strategic IT Asset For the first time in decades, IT leaders now consider all-flash storage as a strategic IT asset. IT has become a new operating model that enables self-service with high performance, density and resiliency. It also offers the self-service agility of the public cloud combined with the security, performance, and cost-effectiveness of a private cloud. Download this MIT Technology Review paper to learn more about how all-flash storage is transforming the data center.

    Download
  • Ongoing Efforts in Veterans Health Care Modernization

    This report discusses the current state of veterans health care

    Download

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.