Analysis: Goodbye to a workforce champion

Despite the small number in his Buckeye State, retiring Sen. George Voinovich stood up for federal employees.

When the 112th Congress convenes on Wednesday, federal employees, managers, executives and stakeholders will feel a tangible void on Capitol Hill as one of their staunchest advocates retires after four decades of public service.

Long before his time in the U.S. Senate, Ohio Republican George Voinovich was committed to career civil servants and improving the rules and conditions under which they work. As governor of Ohio, he instituted a progressive program to inspire and empower state employees. Known as Quality Service Through Partnership (QStP), this program was built on the foundation of solid partnerships between labor and management. In fact, during his time as Ohio's chief executive, QStP provided training to nearly 90 percent of the state's workforce in courses dedicated to team building and problem-solving.

When he was elected to the Senate in 1998, Voinovich embarked on a systematic, sustained and inquisitive effort to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the federal government. Through his tireless efforts and a unique partnership with Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, federal workforce issues were elevated in Congress to levels not experienced since the passage of the 1978 Civil Service Reform Act.

Under his leadership, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight of Government Management, the Federal Workforce and the District of Columbia held more than 50 hearings on federal human capital and management initiatives. But the senator was never interested in hosting hearings with little or no outcome. His goal was to understand a particular issue and leverage his experience and expertise to develop practical solutions to some of government's most perplexing management challenges.

To this end, Voinovich introduced nearly 20 human capital and management proposals, many of which became law. Perhaps the most consequential was the establishment of a chief human capital officer position in departments and agencies to elevate personnel management across government and to give HR professionals a seat at the head table. The senator's efforts also led to the formation of the Chief Human Capital Officers Council to facilitate cross-agency collaboration on personnel issues and promote sharing of best practices.

But his oversight and legislative efforts weren't focused solely on personnel management. Voinovich also launched a comprehensive analysis of long-standing issues on the Government Accountability Office's High-Risk List. Specifically, his review of the Social Security disability benefits process led to the hiring of more administrative law judges to help break the backlog of claims. The senator's evaluation of security clearance procedures led to legal requirements that would dramatically decrease the time it takes to investigate and adjudicate clearances. And to remedy long-standing management challenges at the Defense and Homeland Security departments, Voinovich championed the concept of a deputy secretary for management position to take on the mundane but vital backroom functions at these agencies.

With only 53,000 federal employees out of a total population of 11.5 million in the Buckeye State, Voinovich did not stand to score many political points pushing federal reforms. And yet he did so year after year. The time he dedicated to these issues illustrates his care and commitment to improving the day-to-day operations of government so citizens can receive the best value for their tax dollars.

During more than 40 years in public service, Voinovich was a beacon for bipartisan solutions to everyday challenges. His leadership and dedication to the federal community will be missed by many and forgotten by none.

Andrew Richardson was staff director and John Salamone was a staff member for the Senate Subcommittee on the Oversight of Government Management under George Voinovich.