People People

Chief human capital officers still are working to convince agencies that people matter.

People run the government. It's not technology or finances that block cocaine shipments at the border. They don't inspect nuclear power plants and run rural development programs, either. That is the human capital rallying cry: It's the people, people.

Only outsiders need a rallying cry to whip up their own morale and to win support for their cause. Five years after the Government Accountability Office put human capital on the high-risk list and President Bush put it on his management agenda, and four years after Congress created the chief human capital officer position, those who hold the title still are trying to muster support and earn respect.

In the intelligence world, CHCO Ronald Sanders bartered for power in his interviews with Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte and CIA chief Gen. Michael Hayden. Sanders said he wouldn't take the job at DNI unless it truly was an executive position. "In order for the human capital component to actually make a difference, to enable strategic results in the agency, you need to have somebody who has that hand-to-hand accountability," he says. "I'm not one of those HR people who think we ought to just be there to provide advice."

He is requiring DNI employees to pull joint duty among the 16 intelligence agencies to qualify for senior promotions. It's a move he hopes will enhance collaboration in the intelligence community, the reason Negroponte's office was created.

At the Energy Department, CHCO Jeff T. H. Pon yanked money for human capital out of organizations and into the departmental budget for the first time in a decade so he doesn't have to rely on others to fund his efforts.

At the Veterans Affairs Department, CHCO R. Allen Pittman is testing an automated career paths system that would require managers to consult employees once a year about career goals and training available to get them there, thereby forcing them into conversations about career patterns and development.

Despite evidence of progress, and protestations to the contrary by almost all current CHCOs, they haven't reached the pinnacle yet. "What has happened at many, many departments and agencies is that the human resources function still is viewed in large part as people who are tactical and are there primarily to move paper, as opposed to being strategists and business partners for the executive team," says a former CHCO who asked to remain anonymous to protect his current job. "And so I think most of the CHCOs, if they would be honest . . . would say they probably do not have a full seat at the table even though they do have periodic access."

Winning power takes time. And the evolution of the second newest chiefs is in line with that of their counterparts in technology, finance and procurement, says Jonathan Breul, a senior fellow at the IBM Center for the Business of Government. A former Office of Management and Budget official, he helped launch the 2002 Chief Financial Officers Act and later had a hand in putting human capital on the President's Management Agenda. "Being a real contributing player and a real business partner, [so] when the secretary is moving ahead they involve the CHCO, that's kind of the ultimate," Breul says. "I would argue very few of the CHCOs right now" enjoy that situation.

Proving Themselves

Like all other chiefs, CHCOs had to undergo an executive transformation, Breul says. First, they had to get a sense of themselves and their newly prominent role. Next, they had to determine where they fit in the upper ranks. Then, it was time to institutionalize themselves and their governmentwide council.

For the most part, CHCOs have accomplished these first-round tasks. Now they're faced with actually proving their human resources projects-hiring talent, training employees and using pay to motivate high performance-are vital to accomplishing agencies' missions. "Many times human resources and human capital professionals talk about their program or project: succession planning, recruitment, retention, hiring, performance management," says Pon, Energy's CHCO. "It's just like a house. You're talking about a fixture, a door, a garage door, a wall. But the house is the most important thing."

CHCOs are thrust into the corridors of power when a new mission can't be accomplished without new people. James F. McDermott is the CHCO at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Congress gave NRC a huge assignment when it passed the 2005 Energy Act. The law provides incentives to build nuclear capacity as an alternative to oil. A 3,000-person agency, the NRC must have 4,000 employees by early 2008 for oversight, inspection and regulation of new nuclear plants.

"I've got a place at the table whether I want it or not," McDermott says. He is using an internship program to hire 60 to 80 high-caliber recent college graduates-mostly with science and engineering backgrounds-for a three-year training program to ready them for positions with the agency. He's also asking commission executives to hit the stump and recruit candidates on campuses and hand out business cards to potential applicants. Thanks to a special salary authority, they can trumpet salaries in the mid-50s for engineers and scientists coming straight out of school.

High Wattage

When personnel issues are in the spotlight, so are CHCOs. David S. C. Chu at the Defense Department is there now. As undersecretary for personnel and readiness, he's responsible for recruiting huge workforces and keeping them happy.

On the civilian side, he oversees the largest human capital project in government, the National Security Personnel System. If it can overcome serious legal setbacks in cases brought by employee unions, NSPS will replace the General Schedule with new methods of compensation, including pay for performance, and flexible hiring. Homeland Security is trying to adopt a similar system.

"The other agencies in general are jealous of what Homeland Security and Defense have achieved," Chu says. "Everyone is watching what we are doing, to say, 'Does it succeed as we anticipate it should?' " Consequently, Chu carries weight on the CHCO Council.

John C. Salamone, executive director of the council, hopes other CHCOs gain a similar level of respect. Salamone came from the office of Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio, who championed the legislation creating chief human capital officers. "When the act was passed in November [2002], it certainly helped elevate the importance of human capital management in the government," Salamone says. "We want the CHCOs working with the other chiefs. They can increase the influence across the government if they all work together."

Group Therapy

The CHCO Council meets once a month for formal meetings and at other times for informal training sessions. "It almost becomes group therapy," Breul says. "For most, that is enormously helpful because it's the only time they can go into a room and be among their own kind and let down their hair and say 'Boy, this is hard.' "

Many officers say the best thing about the CHCO legislation was the creation of the council. "I think it's vital," says Housing and Urban Development CHCO Keith A. Nelson. "It's easy to get swept up in your own agency's issues of the day." CHCO Toni Dawsey says the title did not elevate her status at her agency, NASA, but membership in the council "elevated my role across government."

The council became more businesslike when Linda Springer moved from the Office of Management and Budget to become Office of Personnel Management director in the summer of 2005. She also assumed the helm at the council, where CHCOs say she imposed the management style she employed as head of the Chief Financial Officers Council while she was at OMB. Springer reconstituted CHCO Council subcommittees. There now are six: performance management, hiring and succession planning, training and leadership development, the human resources workforce, emergency preparedness, and the human resources line of business.

She linked OPM's strategic goals-which received much praise from Senate overseers for their brevity and directness-to the subcommittees. The connection with CHCOs keeps her staff engaged with agencies instead of bogged down developing personnel regulations. She also is re-quiring subcommittees to create their own strategic goals. "There is more of a business planning approach to it, which is essential," says VA's Pittman. "A lot of people look at human resources as being a warm, soft, touchy-feely organization. Once they're in it, they realize it is a complex profession, and it's very easy to measure."

But it also means the council is starting over again. "The council has changed a lot," says Gail T. Lovelace, CHCO at the General Services Administration. "Even if you just look around the table-the faces around the table-there has been a tremendous turnover . . . and there [are] positives and negatives that go with turnover. You don't have continuity with conversation, but the benefit is you've got new ideas coming to the table, and I'm always looking for new ideas."

A year after Springer took hold of the council, her reforms have yet to yield many observable results. Subcommittee goals were due in mid-September. None of the subcommittees has yet issued reports. Even the Web site of the CHCO Council remains underdeveloped compared with those of the CFO, CIO and CAO councils.

Bringing in Backup

Springer has made an impact by requiring agencies to name deputy CHCOs, who also became members of the council. Under Springer's predecessor, Kay Coles James, council meetings were closed to everyone except CHCOs.

"I do understand Kay James' thrust in that regard," says Reginald F. Wells, CHCO at the Social Security Administration. "She was not supportive of creating the deputy CHCO position . . . because she really wanted to make sure the principals were engaged in leading the council and the kinds of changes she envisioned in the strategic management of human capital. She wanted to get our attention."

When Congress formulated the CHCO legislation in 2002, one of the debates was whether the officers should be career employees or political appointees, says John Palguta, vice president for policy at the Partnership for Public Service in Washington, which lobbied for the CHCO law. In the end, Congress left it up to each agency, and the split was about 50-50. But political appointee turnover meant lack of continuity, and the time required for council meetings was sometimes too much for CHCOs with other responsibilities.

"Every deputy I know of, basically that's their full-time job, helping the agency have good workforce management policy operations," Palguta says. "That makes [it] less important whether the CHCO is career or political. If you've got a good deputy there, then maybe you have the best of both worlds."

CHCOs are resoundingly positive about the addition of deputies. At the Interior Department, CHCO R. Thomas Weimer is the department's assistant secretary for policy, management and budget. Human capital is important to Weimer-he's focusing on building the pool of employees to enter Interior's Senior Executive Service, in part by redesigning a development program with rotational assignments and tailored classroom training. But it's far from his only responsibility, and Weimer says he's thrilled that his deputy CHCO, Kathleen Wheeler, who helped put together Interior's first strategic human capital plan, is part of the council. "It provides a lot of continuity that we weren't otherwise getting," Weimer says.

With deputies to double their capability, CHCOs are on the hook to double their impact.

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