The Office of Personnel Management has a rare opportunity to lead government transformation. For those who would argue that OPM has been overly focused on the transactional elements of traditional human resources management, consider the potential that comes with a new administration focused on reform, soon to be coupled with a new, experienced director. In addition, OPM is responsible for the policy and strategy surrounding people; the people not only plan, perform, make decisions, manage, and achieve, they uphold ethics, values, wisdom, and trust with the American people. These circumstances place OPM at the center of efforts to make government more efficient, effective, and accountable to citizens.
In this context, there are four things OPM should focus on to prepare itself to maximize government’s efficiency and effectiveness through its human capital.
- Build trust through accountability, transparency and collaboration. This is the first step in a process of OPM’s own transformation. The agency has a reputation for being insular, protective, lacking innovation, and for not communicating openly with leaders and agencies. True or not, begin today transforming the culture to one of openness, accuracy, quality, and completeness. Remove internal stovepipes, a propensity for obfuscation, and function as one OPM working together in support of effective human capital.
- Become innovative and proactive. Much of OPM’s work is transactional—officials must process retirement and health care benefits, audit agencies for compliance with HR policies, etc. Yet OPM can and should do so much more: Propose a civil service reform plan, develop more efficient hiring approaches, fix the retirement process, promote flexible staffing solutions to workload problems, study market-based pay, use data to show whether programs are effective, radically improve the way managers manage. Don’t wait for problems to arise or for direction from others—plan, propose, and do. It’s time to proactively create the workforce for the future and the human capital systems to support them throughout the employee lifecycle.
- Dramatically leverage technology and data. OPM has a plethora of data in HR, health insurance, retirement, payroll, employee views, training, security, and much more. While it is effective at reporting much of this data, OPM needs to do a better job of helping agencies use this data to make decisions, forecast, be predictive, and be ready for the future before it comes. It needs to move away from traditional data warehouses and business intelligence tools, and move to distributive ledgers, decision algorithms, and artificial intelligence. It needs to be able to link performance to HR data to help improve program effectiveness and improve decision-making. OPM also needs to stop hand processing data and adjudication and allow technology to make rule-based and machine learned decisions, which is more efficient and accurate. Technology should fully support employees from Day 1 to the day they leave government service or retire. Forms should be a thing of the past; data should be keyed in once and follow the employee throughout their career, and retirement should be determined in real time based on pre-established and maintained algorithms. I could go on, but I hope you get my drift: Exploit technology to improve government performance.
- Experiment and demonstrate effectiveness. OPM should be the central point of innovative demonstration projects that inform government reform efforts and show real results. Approach agencies with new ways of hiring, and managing resources and use them as a testing ground for those innovations. Show a willingness and openness to implementing very creative and unusual ideas. Conduct research and study the impact in other sectors and governments, report out and redesign. Propose legislative changes when appropriate; partner with OMB and Congress to effect change.
All of this requires leadership to think and act differently, be bold, challenge the status quo, accept and manage risk, budget for innovation, be proactive, and be willing to learn from experiments. It requires a change in thinking about back office resources. It requires a willingness to face barriers head on. It requires building trust with agencies and forging new relationships with OMB, lawmakers and many other stakeholders.
Let’s go OPM. It’s time to be the catalyst of reform.