OPM urged to beef up training on personnel reforms

The Office of Personnel Management needs to improve its ability to train employees responsible for implementing key human capital reforms, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office.

"As the agency responsible for the federal government's human capital initiatives, the Office of Personnel Management must have the capacity to successfully guide human capital transformations necessary to meet the governance challenges of the 21st century," the report (GAO-07-90) stated.

The review looked at OPM's role in the implementation of a performance-based pay system for members of the Senior Executive Service. Lessons learned could be applied to the design and implementation of future personnel reforms for non-SES employees, the report stated. The report came two days after OPM released the results of its 2006 Federal Human Capital Survey, a study of the federal workforce designed to gauge employees' perceptions of their jobs and views on management challenges. Almost half of respondents said their overall training needs have been assessed, and about 76 percent said they have learning and training programs readily accessible at their desks.

GAO found that, overall, employees at OPM may not be adequately trained on the skills and competencies needed to assist agencies with future human capital reform efforts. To address this challenge, OPM must work to ensure that its workforce is prepared to successfully design and implement personnel reforms, the report stated.

"Senior executives need to lead the way in transforming their agencies to become more results oriented, collaborative in nature and customer focused," GAO wrote in a letter to the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, which requested the report.

GAO also found that OPM could better inform other agencies on its best practices in implementing personnel reforms. OPM could provide forums for agencies to learn from others' experiences, share successful strategies and avoid common pitfalls.

Reviewers recommended that the director of OPM improve the agency's capacity for future reforms by re-examining agencywide skills, sharing best practices and tracking progress toward goals.

In commenting on a draft of the report, OPM stated that it has made progress toward achieving its operational and strategic goals, but neither agreed nor disagreed with GAO's recommendations.

The report highlighted the importance of human capital management as concerns over changes in workforce demographics are increasing. Because baby boomers are likely to begin retiring in large numbers in the near future and the labor force is growing at a much slower rate, the government must ensure that it is prepared to recruit and hire the talent necessary to remain competitive with the private sector.

In moving forward, the report stated, OPM must "shift its role from less of a rule-maker and enforcer to more of a consultant and strategic partner in leading and supporting agencies' human capital initiatives."

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