Federal officials figuring out who wears the human capital hat

At the General Services Administration, Gail Lovelace has been the chief people officer. Soon she'll be the chief human capital officer. At the Education Department, assistant secretary for management and chief information officer Bill Leidinger has to make room on his business card for the additional title of chief human capital officer. At the Labor Department, officials are still deciding who the chief human capital officer will be and whether it will be a stand-alone position or an added duty for a current executive.

Across government, agency leaders are figuring out who will be their chief human capital officers, a new position that every major agency has to fill. The 2002 Chief Human Capital Officers Act, which was tucked into last year's Homeland Security bill, takes effect next week. The act orders the new chief human capital officers to strategize their work by figuring out how to get the right people with the right skills to fulfill their agencies' missions.

Federal human resources leaders gathered on Capitol Hill Wednesday to discuss the new positions at an event sponsored by the Partnership for Public Service, a Washington-based nonprofit group. Gene Dodaro, a General Accounting Office executive who has studied federal chief information officers and chief financial officers, said some agencies would be fine assigning chief human capital officer duties to a current official while others need an executive dedicated solely to these issues.

"There's no one model," Dodaro said. "It depends on the size of the organization." At most large agencies, chief information officers and chief financial officers have been most effective when they haven't had other duties because the challenges within each management area are so great in big agencies, he said. For smaller agencies, an executive wearing several management hats may be fine.

But agencies would be wrong to simply redesignate their current human resources directors as chief human capital officers, he said. Human resources directors tend to focus on day-to-day administrative processes, while chief human capital officers will most likely have to set broad workforce strategies. "It's not just about giving someone in the organization a new job title," Dodaro said.

The Bush administration announced on May 5 that Ronald James, an Ohio lawyer, would be appointed chief human capital officer at the new Homeland Security Department. Officials from GSA, the Education Department and the Labor Department explained their plans at the event Wednesday. In addition, the State Department will give chief human capital officer duties to Ruth Davis, the director general of the Foreign Service and the director of the Bureau of Human Resources, according to Linda Taglialatela, State's deputy assistant secretary for human resources.

Office of Personnel Management Director Kay Coles James said in an April 18 memorandum to agency heads that she would like them to appoint chief human capital officers by the end of next week. The Chief Human Capital Officers Act officially takes effect May 24, James said. But she also urged agency heads to conduct an extensive search for the right appointees.

James recommended that chief human capital officers be members of the Senior Executive Service or come from the ranks of presidential appointees already in office. Members of the SES must have demonstrated leadership ability.

The act orders the government's major agencies to appoint chief human capital officers to oversee human resources policies in the same way federal CIOs have overseen technology issues since the creation of CIO positions in the 1996 Clinger-Cohen Act. CIOs struggled at first to gain a seat at the management table, figure out what skills they needed, and determine what roles they would play. CIOs had to change their roles from techies steeped in the ins and outs of computer systems to business leaders who figured out how technology could help their agencies accomplish their missions. "It took awhile for CIOs … to figure out that they needed a different skill set," Dodaro said. Chief human capital officers will likely go through the same learning curve.

Chief Financial Officers and CIOs meet monthly on governmentwide councils, which have been successful vehicles for the chiefs to share their lessons and to push for changes to governmentwide policies, Dodaro said. The chief human capital officers will have a council as well. The three groups should coordinate their activities because they have much to share in their areas of expertise, Dodaro said. Both the CFO Council and the CIO Council have human capital committees, for example.

OPM Director James will be the head of the Chief Human Capitol Officers Council. The council's first meeting is scheduled for early June, according to a May 13 letter James sent to Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., chairman of the House Government Reform Committee.

Davis and the committee's ranking member, Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., opened the event Wednesday, heralding the pending appointment of the chief human capital officers across government as an important step in improving federal workforce management.

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