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Memo to the President: Getting the Most From the Federal Workforce

How to make sure employees are positioned to meet mission requirements.

Over the years, much has been written about the importance of reforming the civil service system. President Obama’s proposed budgets from fiscal 2015 through 2017 stated that “an alternative, cost-effective system needs to be developed that will allow the government to compete for and reward top talent, while rewarding performance…”

Regardless of whether any legislative changes are on the horizon, agency management officials, including chief human capital officers, can take specific steps to make sure the federal workforce is aligned and poised to meet mission requirements.

There are a number of steps federal officials, including CHCOs, can take to help manage their agencies’ workforce during times of transition. They include the following proposals.

Strengthening Strategic Planning

The 2010 Government Performance and Results Modernization Act established a well-defined strategic planning timeline for federal agency leaders during the initial stages of a new administration. Specifically, the head of each agency is required to produce and publish a new strategic plan by the first Monday in February one year after the presidential inauguration.

While these priorities are being established, each agency’s CHCO must collaborate with all C-suite executives and provide insights to ensure that the organization’s workforce is aligned to execute its mission.

Analyzing Key Workforce Trends

In order to contribute to the strategic planning process, an agency must have the systems and processes in place to capture and analyze the impact of key trends. Before charging full steam ahead into the world of predictive analytics, it is important to first understand the availability, reliability, and validity of existing data that can be used to drive and inform agency decisions.

Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey data provides one important vantage point to understanding key trends. However, despite the richness of FEVS data, it should not be viewed as the only source for strategic human capital decisions. For example, mapping employee engagement with customer service data and turnover trends could yield important information about the overall engagement, performance and developmental needs of a specific functional area, program or office.

Solidifying the Talent Pipeline

In December 2015, President Obama issued an executive order designed to strengthen and improve the talent management, succession planning, recruitment and development processes for the Senior Executive Service. With more than 60 percent of the SES eligible for retirement in 2016, the timing of the executive order is critical heading into a change in administration.

A retirement wave alone would have a devastating impact on the government’s ability to achieve its mission and manage its workforce. But an analysis of the Office of Personnel Management’s FedScope database yields additional troubling information. Specifically, from fiscal 2009 to 2014 more employees (455,000) quit federal service than retired (366,000). An astounding 84 percent of those quitting government in this time frame left before reaching their 10-year service anniversary. It seems that a retirement wave could be compounded by a strong undercurrent of employees quitting federal service.

Without proper succession planning, recruitment, hiring and talent management strategies in place at all levels of the organization, the talent pipeline may run dry long before the well can be replenished.

Focusing on Employee Engagement

In 2015, just over 421,000 employees responded to the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey. With 84 items on the survey, the federal government has 35 million unique responses that can be categorized and organized by agency, organization and demographics.

OPM organizes similar items on the survey into three important indices: Engagement, Global Satisfaction and New Inclusion Quotient. The measures included in each index provide the incoming administration a fast and reliable way of understanding critical trends.

The incoming administration will undoubtedly ask for an historical analysis of employee engagement trends during their transition briefings. Providing this data with an appropriate level of analysis coupled with key actions needed to improve employee engagement can solidify the value of CHCOs throughout and beyond the transition process.

Underscoring the Importance of Operations

While it is important to focus on the strategic aspects of managing the federal workforce, without effective processes in place at the operational level, agency CHCOs may have difficulty contributing credibly to the strategic planning process.

Over the years, administrations have attempted to streamline, expedite and improve the federal hiring process. While some improvements have been made, there still appears to be a rift between human resource offices and managers over important indicators, including the speed and quality of the hiring process. Successful agencies keep an open dialogue and promote collaboration between HR and managers on important aspects of the hiring process, including identifying key competencies by position, designing assessments, writing job announcements and selecting candidates.

Since the passage of the CHCO Act in 2002 and GPRMA in 2010, federal agencies have taken steps to improve their strategic human capital practices and human resource operational activities. As the new administration continues this process, CHCOs will play an important role in establishing goals, strategies and objectives. Ultimately, they will be responsible for enabling the federal workforce is poised to meet its mission requirements.

This article is part of a series of Memos to the President, highlighting advice from leading academics and practitioners in public administration for the incoming president and his team. It is adapted from a memo written by John Salamone, a fellow of the National Academy of Public Administration and member of the American Society for Public Administration. The article was edited by Paul Posner of George Mason University. The series was developed by the National Academy of Public Administration, the American Society of Public Administration and George Mason University’s Schar School of Policy and Government. Click here for more information and links to the full set of memos.

Photo: Flickr user Sonny Abesamis