The Federal Workforce: What Improvements Can We Make Now?

We are constantly hearing about how the polarization in Congress is making it impossible for anything to get accomplished. Are there any issues that can be not only agreed upon by our officials but also acted upon and implemented? The National Academy of Public Administration and the American Society for Public Administration came together on this very question and a product of their efforts is a series of memos to our national leaders.

Dr. Rex Facer, Associate Professor of Public Finance and Management at the Romney Institute of Public Management, spoke with Chris Dorobek on the DorobekINSIDER program about the recommendations in these memos.

Compensation Reform

The current system: The Federal Salary Council makes a single recommendation on pay differentials and that wage change takes effect uniformly across the GS level.

The recommendation: Remove this uniform pay system and replace it with “targeted increases at different pay grades based on differences that exist at that grade level.” We need to provide incentives for highly skilled federal workers to stay in the government.

Strengthening Recruitment and Selection

The current problem: The “retirement tsunami” is fast approaching as the core workforce is aging. We have a slow hiring system and a culture in government that is averse to firing.

The recommendation: Enhance the role of the Office of Personnel Management so that they can be human resource reform leaders. This would help address the issue of “being able to hire people in a timely fashion” and “being able to get rid of people who aren’t performing and meeting the expectations of service.”

Enhancing Training and Development

The current situation: The first thing cut in agencies is their employee training. In the long run, these cuts are “shooting ourselves in the foot because we’re losing out on the innovation and creativity…that would allow us to provide services without making the kinds of painful cuts we’d otherwise have to do.”

The recommendation: Take training seriously. Reward employees for learning and trying new approaches. Make training part of the office culture.

Strengthening Labor/Management Relationships

The current status: Employee compensation and benefits are under increasing amounts of pressure from the budget and the state of our economy.

The recommendation: We need a discussion about wages, training, and incentives to come to the surface. Facer hopes labor and management will have conversations how to improve government on both the management and labor sides.

The Take-Home Message

Human resource issues effect the government across parties and departments, and therefore it is an area we can have some consensus on. The recommendations laid out in the memos are tangible and will have lasting positive impacts. “If people think government doesn’t work now, wait until we have a government that has less capacity and lower quality employees.”

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Sterling Whitehead

Agreed on all 5 points. They’re pretty common sense. Any issue on compensation is going to face strong pretty from federal employee unions, so I wouldn’t expect those to be easy fights.

Harry Mauve

Great stuff. Particularly like the call to arms on needing to avoid “lower quality employees.” Skill matters. A LOT. It is well known in my community of software development that better skills have a disproportionate effect on productivity (a summary of the findings here

But, a minor nit to pick on the Training & Development. We should think about Skills Development and focus less on the specific (and too limited) tactic of Training. The best skills development happens when individuals pursue knowledge on their own, and are supported in the application of that knowledge while doing their job. The problem with training is it too often ends up being a week out of the office with no residual change.

With so many online courses now available for free (e.g., Coursera), pursuing knowledge should be a given. The harder part — and the place to focus — is creating that mindset of continuous improvement in the workplace. This doesn’t come for free, but it isn’t expensive.

Jay A. Allen

Compensation reform: long pole in the tent. It’s a great concept to move to “pay for performance”, however I just don’t see that monumental transformation happening. It would take Congress’ leadership in making and leading that reform first….not holding my breath here.

Recruitment and Selection: time to take our heads out of the sand. Completely agree with having OPM truly serve strategically as the Federal HR policy office that it should be.

Training and Development: (not surprisingly) heartily second this motion. Cultural transformation that leverages trends we see elsewhere must take place. High performance organizations that genuinely see their human talent as their most important and valuable resource see the attraction, recruitment, and retention of quality people as a function of their professional development in the workplace – not something that is only centered around compliance or expected to be done off the clock.

Compensation and Benefits: passion for patriotism. It’s called Public Service for a reason – my Veteran status speaking here.

Henry Brown

Sounds good on paper but!….

going to have major groups of people concerned over the apparent loss of power/control who IMO will fight everyone of these reforms till their “dying breath”