OPM Director Katherine Archuleta

OPM Director Katherine Archuleta Kris Tripplaar

OPM Wants to Untie Agencies' HR Knots

The government’s human resources shop is trying to improve federal hiring and retention partly by catering to individual agencies’ needs.

The Office of Personnel Management is pursuing various strategies that focus on the individual needs of agencies, as well as human resources challenges common across government, to improve federal hiring and employee retention, OPM Director Katherine Archuleta said on Monday.

“We are drilling down in agencies to find the knots in the hiring process, and to untie them,” Archuleta said during a speech to federal workers at Government Executive’s annual Excellence in Government conference in Washington. Archuleta said she has been meeting with Cabinet secretaries and other agency leaders to help them develop “individualized, personalized toolkits” to tackle their HR problems and needs. “I know that hiring is not a one-size-fits-all process,” she said. Because of tight budgets and hiring limits, “it is more critical than ever that agencies find the best talent,” Archuleta said, adding that OPM is committed to providing agencies with the flexibilities they need to find, cultivate and nurture that talent.

OPM is helping at least one federal agency right now with its internal management challenges. An April 28 email to staff at the International Broadcasting Bureau, which is part of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, said the agency is working with OPM to perform a comprehensive and “necessary” workforce analysis to review IBB’s organizational structure, work processes and staffing levels, and to ensure the agency is prepared for potential layoffs. IBB faces a smaller overall budget in fiscal 2015 that “may require significant staff reductions within the IBB,” the email said.

While OPM is trying to help individual agencies like the IBB work through their specific problems, it is also promoting governmentwide initiatives, like its new GovConnect, designed to “foster a one government environment of collaboration and knowledge-sharing,” Archuleta said. The project is aimed at cultivating innovation and creativity, allowing employees to “try out skills and expertise on a new project – something that is not in their current comfort zone,” Archuleta said. At the Housing and Urban Development Department, for instance, employees can use a program called “innovation time” that gives workers the opportunity to spend up to four hours a week on a project they are passionate about. Some employees used the opportunity to create an app that helps people find affordable housing, Archuleta said. Another project Gov U, modeled on HR University, aims to provide education and training resources governmentwide to federal HR professionals to improve employee recruitment and retention.

Archuleta has been traveling a lot during the past few months, she said, listening to what federal workers like – and don’t like – about their jobs. Better training and “a clearer career path,” are among the things employees are clamoring for, the OPM director said. She urged the Excellence in Government audience to encourage their colleagues and those they manage to complete the annual Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey, which the agency emailed to the federal workforce about two weeks ago. “The success of this survey depends on how many employees participate,” she said. “And I believe that depends on all of us convincing federal employees what we know to be true -- that we take their comments seriously, that we use their feedback to effect change, and that their opinions matter.”