The Trump administration's management chief said last week that it is past time for Congress to make updates to the 1978 Civil Service Reform Act.
“We all know that it’s been 40 years since the last major civil service reform,” said Margaret Weichert, deputy director for management at the Office of Management and Budget, in an interview with NextGov. “In the president’s State of the Union address and in other forums, we’ve talked about other areas that need to evolve from something that was utterly relevant and on point in 1978, to the digital workforce and a workforce that is characterized by Moore’s Law—moving at the speed of computing, not at the speed of paper.”
More immediately, Weichert said the Trump administration will renew its push to fill a proposed $1 billion interagency workforce fund designed to support agencies’ pay-for-performance pilot programs and give departments flexibility when hiring in high-demand fields.
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“We would very much like to see Congress fund [the workforce fund] in [fiscal] 2019,” she said. “The $1 billion would be essentially creating the capacity to look at the roles and the jobs and the critical capabilities we need for the 21st century, and line up performance-oriented pay and innovative programs to attract, retain and reward the best talent, and line that up with the market priorities.”
Weichert elaborated on her comments at the launch of President Trump’s Management Agenda in Kansas City last month, stressing the need to modernize agencies in a holistic way, completing IT updates in conjunction with changes to how the federal workforce operates.
“It’s not just modernizing IT in a vacuum,” she said. “It’s understanding what data elements are associated with that technology, who is affected by that tech and using it to serve citizens or may be blocked from helping citizens because of tools they don’t have or the challenges of working with multiple legacy systems.”
She also advocated for the administration’s plan to test the waters on automation, following OMB, the Office of Personnel Management, and the Defense Department’s quarterly update to the management agenda, which noted that 60 percent of federal jobs could see 30 percent of their work activities automated, and another 5 percent of jobs could be made entirely redundant. Weichert said simply moving many agencies’ paper-based processes to the digital space could free up federal workers to focus on more important activities to serve the public.
“A lot of folks know that the government is kind of staggering under the weight of all the paper we have,” she said. “We all have examples of working with the government, where there’s a paper form that comes in over here, and then is digitally entered over there . . . A lot of errors can be introduced that way, and there’s just no value added.”
And while she acknowledged that a small group of mostly administrative jobs could be lost in the process of automation, she said officials hope that other advances in reskilling and redeploying workers could mitigate any job losses.
“While I am not familiar with the details of that particular data element, there are a very small handful of jobs that will be displaced as we go to digitally native activities,” Weichert said. “To the extent that a job exclusively is to move paper from one place to another, that is not necessarily something that is going to have long-term legs . . . But we have any number of new types of jobs created around data, cyber, even things like law enforcement that we struggle to fill. We have this dedicated workforce that has passed a background check . . . so how do we reskill and redeploy those employees so they have the skills aligned with a 21st century workforce.”
To that end, Weichert touted OPM’s plans to develop a uniform digital record for federal workers, that officials say will help people who want to transfer from one position to another and across agencies more easily.
“We need to be able to move people around,” she said. “In the private sector, people don’t stay in the same jobs and only do one thing for their whole career. We need to be more like the private sector and learn how to continuously learn and have the workforce learn too.”