OPM notes strides in training managers as legislation gathers steam

Unions and government groups back bill to expand instruction on mentoring, productivity and other issues.

As union and good government leaders express their support for more training for federal managers, the Office of Personnel Management says many agencies already are meeting the requirements proposed in legislation introduced by Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii.

At the request of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight of Government Management, the Federal Workforce and the District of Columbia, OPM recently conducted an informal inventory of President's Management Council agencies to determine whether their training programs fulfill existing requirements and new ones set out in the Federal Supervisor Training Act (S. 674).

According to Nancy Kichak, OPM's associate director for strategic human resource policy, about half the agencies responding to the survey said they are following the current guidelines, which address strategies for mentoring, improving employee performance and productivity, conducting performance appraisals, and identifying and assisting poor performers. A majority of the other agencies told OPM they are developing supervisory training programs to fully comply.

"Most agencies go beyond the requirements in the [2004] Federal Workforce Flexibility Act and OPM regulations and offer new supervisors training in additional key areas, such as recruiting and hiring, labor and employee relations, team building, strategic planning, conflict management, financial management, and providing career guidance to employees," Kichak told the subcommittee at a Thursday hearing.

Of the 25 agencies that responded, five, including the Defense Department, already offer programs the legislation would make mandatory, such as training on prohibited personnel practices and union rights.

J. David Cox, national secretary-treasurer of the American Federation of Government Employees, praised provisions in the bill that would mandate training on prohibited personnel practices such as discrimination, whistleblower retaliation, favoritism or politicization. Requiring training on employee collective bargaining and union participation rights would further protect employees' rights, he said.

"Managers and supervisors trained to understand their responsibilities under the law with respect to employee rights, collective bargaining and prohibited personnel practices will be less likely to succumb to the kind of pressure exerted during the past administration to violate those rights in pursuit of political ends," Cox said.

The National Treasury Employees Union also supports the bill. President Colleen Kelley said lack of proper training for managers and supervisors contributes to some of the most pressing problems the federal workforce faces, including hiring delays.

"Many agencies' hiring officials do not know about the importance of competitive hiring … and the merit system principles that led to the creation of the country's professional and nonpartisan workforce," Kelley said. "Nor do they understand the various hiring authorities, and they are often unaware of the requirements tied to different authorities."

John Palguta, vice president of the Partnership for Public Service, also backs the bill, particularly the provision requiring OPM to gather data on manager training, evaluate progress and report on the effectiveness of agency responses to new requirements.

"The Partnership believes that S. 674 would be a very positive step toward providing funding and accountability for improved managerial and supervisory development," Palguta said.

A spokeswoman for Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio, ranking member of the subcommittee, said he supports the intent of the legislation, which is similar to the training language included in the Federal Employee Performance legislation he introduced in previous Congresses.