The View From OPM

Timothy B. Clark

Linda Springer focuses on helping federal workers.

The executive branch's staffing situation has been on the Government Accountability Office's list of government's highest-risk problems for six years, and there it should remain, says Linda Springer, who is in a position to know.

As director of the Office of Personnel Management, she has a bird's-eye view of the 1.8 million-person civil service, and retirement trends give her cause for worry. Until all major agencies devise effective plans to replace those whose expertise soon will be lost, government's ability to operate effectively will be at risk, she says.

From a 10,000-foot level, Springer is doing what she can to ease the problem. She has rolled out more commercials about government service that will run in prime time in cities such as Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and Raleigh. The message is that working for government is interesting, and good for the country, and the ads have generated traffic at the USAJOBS.gov Web site. Springer is unveiling a Web initiative aimed at university campuses: about 10 Webinars of panels discussing various types of jobs and careers in government. Soon, these taped sessions will be a couple of clicks away for students who might be interested in government work.

One wonders if ads featuring civil servants-a NASA microbiologist and a Homeland Security Department physical security specialist, for example-can do much to attract the talent government needs. Still, they provide air cover for agencies looking to fill specialized jobs in, for instance, the key administrative functions of technology, finance and acquisition. Top officials have been troubled enough about the IT workforce to have commissioned a governmentwide skills assessment and study of how to fill the gaps. At events this spring co-sponsored by Government Executive and the National Academy for Public Administration, ranking finance and acquisition officials voiced deep concern about maintaining capable workforces.

Elsewhere in government, the intelligence community worries about retaining young recruits who can be turned off by bureaucracy and tempted by high-paying contractors' efforts to lure away those with security clearances. And in the unglamorous but important world of rule-making, expert scholar Cornelius M. Kerwin of American University has called for more intensive training of civil servants whose work affects many aspects of our economy.

As we talked in her office in mid-May, Springer reserved judgment on proposals to establish a new Public Service Academy, modeled after the military academies, but she doesn't support offering "favored class" job guarantees at the expense of other people in the U.S. workforce. Beyond the recruitment initiatives, Springer is concentrating her efforts on improving conditions and services for federal employees. She proposes legislation to make it easier to bring back federal retirees, and to give people more opportunity to move from full-time to part-time employment, without reducing pensions. She's also hoping to advance a plan for short-term disability insurance, to include maternity leave.

With these legislative initiatives, and with an ambitious plan to convert 150,000 file drawers of retirement papers into accessible electronic files for federal annuitants, she is taking a praiseworthy practical view of what she can get done in the waning tenure of the Bush administration.

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