Greater Use of Talent Exchange Programs Tops New List of Proposed Federal Workforce Reforms

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A nonprofit group that partnered with the Office of Management and Budget to host a day-long discussion on federal workforce issues last month issued a series of recommendations Tuesday to spur reform of agency practices.

OMB hosted an off-the-record symposium in September, inviting agency leaders, HR professionals, nonprofit groups and other stakeholders to discuss the possibilities and challenges of reaching the workforce goals in President Trump’s management agenda.

Attendees described the event as “a really interesting brainstorming session” that ran the gamut from discussions about pay and performance to reskilling and technology. The Mitre Corp., which partnered with OMB to host the event, published a report Tuesday outlining nine recommendations based on areas of consensus reached at the symposium.

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Some of the proposals can be realized through administrative action, while other ideas would require legislation, the authors wrote. Many involve improving partnerships both across agencies and among different stakeholder groups.

Topping the list is the recommendation to increase the use of partnerships for talent exchange programs, which could take the form of increased use of the Intergovernmental Personnel Act. That program could perhaps be expanded to include private sector employers, the report said.

“The Intergovernmental Personnel Act program is a tool used by government agencies from state and local governments, colleges and universities . . . and other eligible organizations,” Mitre Corp. wrote. “The Science and Technology Policy Institute describes this type of exchange as a ‘triple win’ for the destination organization, the participant, and the home organization. Nonetheless, IPAs are not used as frequently as they might be given the restrictions put upon them, which are designed to avoid personal and organizational conflicts of interest and legal issues.”

The group also recommended expanding training for federal workers in a number of capacities. It suggested expanding the use of apprenticeship and development partnership programs, as companies have begun doing to develop or reskill talent in fields like cybersecurity, as well as significantly boosting training and professional development programs for managers. The Senior Executives Association is preparing an effort to fill in some of the gaps in training for executives at agencies with training seminars and other professional development programs.

“Agencies are required to train supervisors within one year of initial appointment and follow up at least every three years; nonetheless, a recent OPM survey showed the training results to be inconsistent across agencies,” the authors wrote. “[Organizations] need to train leaders and employees on how to give and receive feedback, and to shift from judging to developmental feedback. Compared with the private sector, government employees have a lower perception of their supervisors’ feedback.”

The Mitre Corp. also recommended some ways to consider implementing pay for performance at the federal level, arguing that the current pay system “does not recognize individual employees for their achievements beyond the initial qualification standard for the position.” Although the organization stopped short of advocating abandoning the merit systems principles that are the basis for the General Schedule pay scale, it suggested “adding some differentiation based on performance results and value.”

One recommendation that the Trump administration has already moved on is that the government make greater use of critical hiring authorities to grant agencies greater flexibility in finding candidates for key jobs. Following the ouster of then-OPM Director Jeff Pon, acting Director Margaret Weichert, who spearheaded the symposium as deputy director for management at OMB, announced that the administration will create a series of new pay systems to make it easier to hire feds in areas like IT, science and other fields.

The authors reported that attendees at the symposium were “optimistic” about the chances for a more collaborative relationship with federal employee unions to pursue initiatives with “clear outcomes and shared interests,” and recommended that agencies pursue projects to that end.

“Participants recommended three essential practices: embracing a cooperative labor-management leadership model for the initiative; developing advocates among the early adopters to support communication and build trust; and allowing participants to shape the effort to ensure that it is practical, while encouraging their commitment and buy-in,” the report said.

But Federal News Network reported last month that labor groups were not invited to the OMB event, and since then the Trump administration filed an appeal in the lawsuit between more than a dozen unions and the Trump administration over three executive orders aimed at making it easier to fire workers and reducing the influence of labor organizations in the federal sector.

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