Ex-HR Chiefs: Some Federal Managers Just Can’t Manage

emojoez/Shutterstock.com

The government should rethink how it evaluates and rewards federal workers, in part to help improve the reputation of civil servants among lawmakers and the public, former executive branch officials said on Thursday.

“There is still a lot of phoniness in the appraisal systems” agencies use to evaluate employees’ job performance, said Constance Berry Newman, director of the Office of Personnel Management during the George H.W. Bush administration, at a panel discussion in Washington with two other former OPM chiefs. Supervisors and managers “should be marked down when they are not properly appraising their staffs,” Newman said.

The current process isn’t working, and it’s undermining confidence in government, said Newman, who is now special counsel for African affairs at The Carmen Group. “What happens is, you get a tough evaluator, and then all the people working for that evaluator are in a worse position when they compete with those who have weak evaluators, and then there is this pressure for everybody to dumb the whole system down.” Performance, Newman said, has “a great influence” on how the public and Congress regard government. “A lot of it is unfair reporting,” by the media, she added, “but some of it is fair reporting.”

Part of the problem is that some managers simply are not good at their jobs, largely because of the government’s antiquated system of promoting employees based on seniority, said former Clinton OPM Director Janice Lachance. “Some people just stink at being supervisors,” said Lachance, now CEO of the Special Libraries Association. “Yet it’s the only way to reward them for their expertise, for their experience, for their contribution. That’s just a crazy rule. How can we start getting rid of that?”

The comments from Newman and Lachance came during a relatively frank discussion on federal workforce issues, including pay-for-performance, recruitment strategies and agencies’ budget constraints, as well as OPM’s relationship with the rest of government, including Congress and the White House. The Coalition for Effective Change, a group of federal employee and good-government advocates, hosted Thursday’s event.

Linda Springer, who served as head of OPM during the George W. Bush administration, said paying for performance also means investing in and rewarding valuable employees, and ensuring the “proper levels” of compensation and recognition are available to yield results. “One of the philosophical notions that I have trouble with is that we can do everything on the cheap…I think that’s a recipe for poor performance,” said Springer, an executive director in the government and public sector practice at Ernst and Young. “I think if you don’t fund things, activities, people and other things that go with it to ensure success, then you get what you pay for.” Springer rejected the “do more with less” mantra that has become standard operating procedure in government. “I really, really have a strong aversion to doing more with less,” she said. “Take out those two middle words, and just do less.”

Taking that kind of initiative, however, is difficult in today’s political environment, the three former federal HR chiefs acknowledged, particularly when Congress has its eye on federal compensation. OPM, long considered a backwater agency, also has had a tough time historically asserting itself within the administration and figuring out its role alongside the Office of Management and Budget. “I worry that the ‘M’ in OMB is often overshadowed by the budget part in OMB, and so they get wrapped up in decision-making by the numbers,” said Lachance. “That’s the agency’s job, I understand…but for me, it was a daily struggle to maintain OPM’s standing to make sure I had a voice in the West Wing, to make sure that OPM’s opinion was heard.”

To Lachance, OPM’s role is to be “a strong, independent voice” for the civil service, and that involves navigating some tricky terrain. The former Clinton OPM director said the federal benefits structure has to be reassessed. “The millennials are looking for different sorts of benefits,” Lachance said. “Perhaps a fixed retirement benefit isn’t as important to them…I’m not saying change that. I’m not going to go on that third rail, but you know there are specific things they are looking for that the federal government just isn’t competitive in,” she said, mentioning paid maternity leave as an example. The younger generation also realizes that government jobs are not the only, or best, venue for making an impact the way they once were; in fact, there are a wealth of opportunities now in the non-profit world and other sectors where the hiring process is faster and less of a hassle, she pointed out.

In other words, Uncle Sam needs to up his game to attract talented hires. “I think we’ve lived off the spirit of public service,” Springer said. “At some point, that car is gonna run out of gas.”

(Image via emojoez/Shutterstock.com)

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:

  • Sponsored by Brocade

    Best of 2016 Federal Forum eBook

    Earlier this summer, Federal and tech industry leaders convened to talk security, machine learning, network modernization, DevOps, and much more at the 2016 Federal Forum. This eBook includes a useful summary highlighting the best content shared at the 2016 Federal Forum to help agencies modernize their network infrastructure.

    Download
  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    GBC Flash Poll Series: Merger & Acquisitions

    Download this GBC Flash Poll to learn more about federal perspectives on the impact of industry consolidation.

    Download
  • Sponsored by One Identity

    One Nation Under Guard: Securing User Identities Across State and Local Government

    In 2016, the government can expect even more sophisticated threats on the horizon, making it all the more imperative that agencies enforce proper identity and access management (IAM) practices. In order to better measure the current state of IAM at the state and local level, Government Business Council (GBC) conducted an in-depth research study of state and local employees.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    The Next Federal Evolution of Cloud

    This GBC report explains the evolution of cloud computing in federal government, and provides an outlook for the future of the cloud in government IT.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    A DevOps Roadmap for the Federal Government

    This GBC Report discusses how DevOps is steadily gaining traction among some of government's leading IT developers and agencies.

    Download
  • Sponsored by LTC Partners, administrators of the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program

    Approaching the Brink of Federal Retirement

    Approximately 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age per day, and a growing number of federal employees are preparing themselves for the next chapter of their lives. Learn how to tackle the challenges that today's workforce faces in laying the groundwork for a smooth and secure retirement.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Hewlett Packard Enterprise

    Cyber Defense 101: Arming the Next Generation of Government Employees

    Read this issue brief to learn about the sector's most potent challenges in the new cyber landscape and how government organizations are building a robust, threat-aware infrastructure

    Download
  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    GBC Issue Brief: Cultivating Digital Services in the Federal Landscape

    Read this GBC issue brief to learn more about the current state of digital services in the government, and how key players are pushing enhancements towards a user-centric approach.

    Download
  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    Joint Enterprise Licensing Agreements

    Read this eBook to learn how defense agencies can achieve savings and efficiencies with an Enterprise Software Agreement.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Cloudera

    Government Forum Content Library

    Get all the essential resources needed for effective technology strategies in the federal landscape.

    Download

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