Chief of the Year: Human Capital

On June 15, Government Executive is featuring the government's chief officers of acquisition, finance, human capital, information and information security in a special issue of the magazine. This year we've identified individuals to highlight as Chiefs of the Year -- not necessarily because they are unsurpassed in their fields, but because their peers have much to learn from their experiences.

Chris Flynn

Jeff Neal
Chief Human Capital Officer
Homeland Security Department

Jeff Neal knows from long experience how complicated federal human resources issues can be. A career senior executive, he jokes he "burrowed out" to a political appointment, serving as chief human capital officer at the Defense Logistics Agency before coming to his current post. Max Stier, president of the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service, says Neal is on a short list of "some real stars . . . a very, very talented individual and really a great pick for DHS."

At DHS, Neal faces the challenge of creating a coherent community out of a department cobbled together like Frankenstein's monster out of different organizations-and a wholly new one, the Transportation Security Administration, which he says was invented by "a handful of people who were stuck in a conference room and told to build an agency."

Among the issues he's attacking head on are what he says is an overreliance on contractors and the need for a deep, comprehensive leadership development program. One of his first moves as CHCO was to expand the department's Senior Executive Service corps and to tap talented executives to work on broader issues.

Neal isn't just concerned with his own department. He's been part of conversations with the Office of Personnel Management about how to revitalize the Chief Human Capital Officers Council, and gave the agency feedback on its hiring reform proposal.

"That's very nice to see, that OPM is not developing solutions and lobbing them over the transom to people," he says.

National Treasury Employees Union President Colleen Kelley says Neal has won her respect by opening his door not just to her, but also to the rank-and-file TSA employees and Customs and Border Protection officers her union represents. Those meetings might not have resolved the tricky legal questions around unionization at TSA, where NTEU and the American Federation of Government Employees want to represent workers, but Kelley says simply holding the sessions has helped build good will.

Neal is "a very open guy," Kelley says. "He was very well-received. He's a good listener, and he's a thoughtful guy. There's no hesitancy to be up front in a discussion or a conversation, and that goes a long way."

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