GAO chief warns of looming people problem

David Walker took his message of a human capital crisis to Capital Hill Thursday. Testifying before a Senate Governmental Affairs subcommittee, the General Accounting Office chief warned: "Widespread inattentiveness to strategic human capital management has created a governmentwide risk--one that is fundamental to the federal government's ability to effectively serve the American people, both now and in the future." Chief among Walker's concerns is the fact that agencies have failed to determine what kind of workforce they will need in the coming years. Downsizing that took place during the late 1980s and throughout the 1990s was done without much planning, Walker said. As a result, the government is now at a point where it has lost and will be losing people with key skill sets and has done little to figure out how to replace them. More importantly though, agency heads don't really know what kind of workforce they will need in the future. Walker puts the blame not only on agency heads, but also on the Office of Management and Budget. "OMB has not been a player at all in human capital," he said, saying OMB must do a better job of helping agencies link their strategic plans and budgets with personnel needs. During his confirmation hearing in January, OMB director Mitchell Daniels pledged that the agency will be active in management issues. Sen. George Voinivich, R, Ohio, chairman of the Governmental Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight of Government Management, said agencies must do a better job of blending human resources needs into their budgets. For instance, he suggested that agencies include specific line items for training and recruitment in their budgets, so members of Congress know that those are priorities. Additionally, Voinivich plans to urge oversight committees to question second-tier department nominees about their plans to deal with human capital. "Part of the problem is we are not tough enough during confirmation hearings," the senator said. While acknowledging that Congress will ultimately need to pass some targeted civil service reforms, Walker said agencies must make better use of the flexibilities currently in place. That includes strengthening recruiting and retention programs, doing a better job of promoting government work and enhancing training programs. Walker also said President Bush must set the tone. "The President must recognize that there are challenges. He needs to promote public service."
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