Hiring challenges weigh most on federal managers

Federal managers say the hiring process is their most pressing human capital challenge, according to a recent survey by the Government Business Council.

The survey, completed by more than 200 federal executives randomly selected from Government Executive's subscriber database, asked respondents to weigh in on issues agency chief executives face.

In the human capital arena, 42 percent of respondents told GBC, Government Executive's research arm, the hiring process was the most important issue at their agency. This far surpassed the percentage of respondents who identified other human capital issues -- work-life balance, career development, onboarding and managing the multisector workforce -- as most important.

GBC analysts interviewed dozens of federal managers to accompany the survey, asking them what they thought agency chief executives should focus on. Many said they wished chief human capital officers would take ownership of the hiring process, including ensuring systems are modern and up to date and applicants receive a timely response.

Interviewees said widespread vacancies continue to exacerbate both the human capital situation at their agencies and their ability to be effective in other arenas. "Staffing levels are so thin that there is a constant expectation to do more faster with fewer people," one manager said. "It's causing a morale crisis, [and] leaders seem to turn a deaf ear to the severity of the situation."

Another said he has never, in 30 years of federal service, had a chief human capital officer ask if he was staffed adequately, or if there were staffing-related morale issues.

Survey respondents identified work-life balance, including flexible work schedules and telework, as another important issue; they rated it as the second-highest priority, followed by career development.

Managers said they often don't feel they have the training and tools they need for promotions. Several suggested chief human capital officers create a road map for career tracks within different agency functions. This document could include a description of the skills required to move up to a certain position, along with any extra-curricular or educational activities that might benefit an individual in that job.

Finding the right balance of contractors and federal employees was an oft-cited issue, but did not rank as particularly important among survey respondents. In fact, almost half (48 percent), said it was the least important of the human capital issues presented. Only 11 percent said it was most important.

Survey respondents indicated there has not been substantial progress improving human capital during the past two years. Forty percent said the situation at their agency had deteriorated, either somewhat or markedly, and another third said it had been about the same over the last two years.

Only 27 percent of respondents said the human capital situation had improved recently, and a mere 4 percent said it had improved markedly.

The full results of the survey and the interviews, which cover not only human capital but also the other chief functions -- finance, acquisition, information technology and information security -- will be presented at a Government Executive leadership breakfast on Thursday. The breakfast will highlight the chiefs of the year.

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