OPM frees its human capital officers from daily pay and benefits grind


The Office of Personnel Management’s human capital officers no longer will handle day-to-day inquiries from agencies on issues like pay and leave, but instead will focus on implementing the Obama administration’s federal workforce priorities governmentwide.

OPM’s specific policy offices from now on will field questions from agencies on a range of workforce issues including recruitment and hiring, pay, and performance management, according to a Jan. 25 memorandum to the government’s chief human capital officers from Angela Bailey, OPM’s associate director of employee services. Under the new framework, the agency’s human capital officers will be called “HR strategists” and will focus on bigger picture workforce challenges and ideas.

“The HCOs will shift their focus from servicing a specific list of agencies, to driving innovative new practices across government through pilot projects that address the administration’s most critical priorities,” Bailey’s memo said.

The change is part of OPM’s larger effort to stand up a new organization -- the Center for Strategic Workforce Planning -- within its Employee Services shop. The center’s purpose is to provide information about federal workforce trends, design and support initiatives that address HR priorities, and encourage innovation within government through pilot projects.

The new framework raises questions over whether OPM has enough policy staff to handle the volume of daily, technical questions from hundreds of human resources people across government, said Henry Romero, former OPM associate director for workforce compensation and performance during the Clinton administration. It also brings up whether HCOs currently possess the right skills to develop long-term strategies on federal workforce issues, he said.

“We had complaints from our clients that some HCOs were not well-equipped to answer questions on a day-to-day basis,” said Romero, who now is a senior adviser at Virginia-based consulting firm Federal Management Partners. The HCO essentially became “a messenger,” Romero said, fielding inquiries and funneling information between OPM’s policy staff and the agency HR office looking for answers on issues like pay, leave and veterans’ hiring. OPM is not really equipped to answer hundreds of such questions on a routine basis, Romero said.

Another concern is the Center for Strategic Workforce Planning’s mission and shelf life. Is it to promote long-term innovation and encourage collaboration across the federal HR community, Romero asked, or is it purely a vehicle to push the Obama administration’s priorities? Those priorities currently include streamlining hiring, employing more veterans and strengthening partnerships between labor and management. “The innovation might be what OPM decides is a priority, not what the agency might need,” Romero said.

OPM did not immediately respond to questions about the reorganization.

(Image via Nonnakrit/Shutterstock.com)

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