Acting OPM Director Margaret Weichert

Acting OPM Director Margaret Weichert YouTube via former Senator Heidi Heitkamp

OPM Looks to Expand Pilot Programs That Teach Federal Employees New Skills

New pay study will be "additive," not replace existing compensation comparison efforts, acting director says.

Acting Office of Personnel Management Director Margaret Weichert said Thursday that as the federal government enters the second year of implementing President Trump’s management agenda, she hopes to find ways to expand successful pilot programs related to hiring employees faster and reskilling workers to enter cybersecurity and IT jobs.

In an interview with Government Executive, Weichert said that over the last year, she has been working to adopt an integrated approach to modernizing the federal workforce.

“A lot of what’s in the PMA isn’t new, but the key thing that is different is that we’re looking at the integrated nature of the challenges we face, and the fact that we can’t solve IT problems without also thinking about the data and people elements, and then deeper than that things like procurement and other challenges,” she said. “So overall, the architecture we’re trying to change does focus on IT, data and people, but people are an enabler of IT and vice versa.”

Weichert said that a number of pilot programs to speed up the hiring process and provide workers with new tech-based skills have been successful, and she hopes to expand them over the next year.

“I think we want to take a number of these things from pilots into commercialization,” she said. “If you look at cyber reskilling, we’ve got 25 people enrolled [in the pilot program], but more than 1,500 people who applied and I think something like 300 of those people were actually, when they did the assessment test, qualified and had the aptitude to be reskilled from non-IT jobs into a cyber job. Everyone could find a job in government if we were able to reskill them.”

Expanding on comments made at the National Academy of Public Administration Wednesday, Weichert said agencies should consider finding ways to boost employee satisfaction that don't rely on compensation.

“If you look at uniformed members of the U.S. Secret Service, the reward that is most important to them is not more compensation, because they already get so much overtime that their work-life balance is really a challenge,” she said. “So for them, more time off, or benefits that might include child care could be incredibly important.”

She also provided more details about her vision for a new “holistic investigation” into federal employee compensation, which she said would be “additive” rather than an attempt to replace various existing efforts to compare federal and private sector pay.

“We want to create a fact base that’s holistic and broad and balanced,” she said. “There are all kinds of studies that prove all types of things, so I’m not going in with the expectation of a specific, one-size-fits-all outcome. I’m entirely expecting that there are places where we are underpaying and the reason I can say that is that I can’t fill jobs in certain spaces and have poor retention in certain places. But all the places with poor retention [do] not necessarily [have] poor pay.”

Weichert also seemed to acknowledge that in some instances, it might be justifiable for the federal government to overpay employees, particularly at the lower end of the pay scale, as some studies already show. But she suggested that while in some areas it is too difficult to keep employees, there are others where retention is hurting innovation.

“There are a lot of reasons for that [phenomenon], and issues about social engineering are part of that, and there’s public policy considerations that are important,” Weichert said. “I don’t want to step into the fray on that; it’s utterly appropriate to achieve public policy goals with what we do with the federal workforce. But I want to paint a clear picture of what that cost looks like, so we don’t have unnamed subsidies . . . I have metrics around retention that suggest those rates are so high as to potentially be problematic. Essentially it’s at the point where you don’t have a sort of natural flow of people, which blocks the ability to hire younger people with new experiences in new technologies.”