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Do Workforce Challenges Create A Mission Impossible for Gov?

“Workforce = mission. If you don’t have the right people it is a recipe for disaster,” said Goldenkoff. But hiring and retaining top talent has been a big problem for government.

The Government Accountability Office looked at workforce challenges in their new report, “Recent Trends in Federal Civilian Employment and Compensation. Robert Goldenkoff is the Director of Strategic Issues at the GAO. Goldenkoff told Chris Dorobek on the DorobekINSIDER program that the GAO was asked to do the report because Congress wanted a clearer picture of the workforce to set the budget.

“We prepared this report at the request at the ranking member of the Senate budget committee. We did the report to help inform workforce planning and spending decisions. It goes without saying that the size and composition of the federal workforce has huge implications for federal spending as well as to the extent to which agencies can carry out their program goals. The challenge facing both Congress and agencies is to have the right mix of employees so that the government is able to deliver the high quality services that the taxpayers demand, but also within the budgetary realities of what the nation can afford,” said Goldenkoff.

We would love to have the best people on the planet working for gov, but can we afford the best people on the planet?

“Proportionally there are more knowledge workers within the federal government than the private sector. The public sector is better educated and higher skills are needed. One of the key trends we found in our report was the growth in positions requiring high levels of skills and education. Professional and administrative positions such as doctors, scientists, lawyers, they went up between 2004-2012 by 25%,” said Goldenhoff.

  • Key findings: “Between 2004 and 2012 the government went from about 1.9 million employees to 2.1 million employees. It was an increase of 260,000 employees. Or an increase of 14%. But if you peel away the layers, the vast majority of that growth, 94%, occurred in just three agencies; the Department of Defense, Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Homeland Security,” said Goldenhoff.

Where was the growth?

“The additional growth was where you would expect to see it. The growth was to address urgent national priorities. Within the VA, most of that growth took place within the Veterans Health Administration, that was because there was an increase for services needed for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. For DHS, the increase went largely to border security. Within the DOD, it was among other things beefing up its cybersecurity and acquisition workforce,” said Goldenhoff.

Compensation remained pretty flat?

“It is interesting to focus on where change occurred, but it is also interesting to focus on where change did not occur. One of those areas is compensation. There are lots of different ways you can look at compensation, even though the size of the federal workforce increased and the federal government was spending more money on compensation just because there was more money on the payroll, as a share of total discretionary spending it remained constant at about 14%. So compensation was not taking a larger bite proportionally of the federal budget,” said Goldenkoff.

Tide towards a retirement tsunami?

“There is no question that we have an aging workforce. That is evident by the fact that in 2012, 14% of the workforce was eligible to retire and that is going to grow to around 30% in 2017. The factors that cause people to retire and make those decisions to stay and go are not really well understood. We have been forecasting this event for years and years now and the estimates really fluctuate. There are a lot of things that affect the decision to retire, everything from the state of the economy, peoples retirement accounts, whether you have kids in college, that argues for workforce planning and analytics that we have been talking about,” said Goldenkoff.

What should agencies do?

“We need to hold agencies accountable for doing workforce planning, for managing their workforce properly, for making sure they have the personnel infrastructure in place to do the sort of account management that is needed to make sure that agencies have the right people in the right places at the right time,” said Goldenkoff.

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George Haney

This is funny to me. the “best people on the planet” aren’t your GS-1 thru GS-6 level entry people, we are the GS 15 and above people.

Well GOOD LUCK getting through the process on USAJOBS to get to a position. It SURE seems like these positions are already allocated to someone, they are just going through the motions.

After YEARS of submitting apps, I FINALLY get past the screener, only to find in the next phase “not rated high enough to be considered”.

I am not a veteran, and I don’t have a qualifying disability, and I am a white male… so I don’t get any “extra” points for breathing that many do.

I don’t know why I keep trying.. but I do as I hope someday to get past the screens..

PS: Last Year a job that was practically written from my resume came up, in the agency where I work, where I have friends, AND I knew and had worked with the people that put the job up.. so I naively applied thinking how could I NOT get past the screeners.

I didn’t. I heard through the grapevine that the 10 people submitted for interviews didn’t event know the technology… as in had no experience at all .. yet, they were veterans… the selected candidate –> female, veteran, hearing impaired.. what nice POINTS ..

this is why the “best” get fed up and stop bothering.. it isn’t the lower salaries, nor is it the idea of dealing with the politics –> There are politics in every job

George Haney

Oh.. and the fact that I can apply for a job in the private sector in 10 minutes or less, VS. the 45 minutes to an hour it takes for a federal position.. that doesn’t help the argument

John L. Waid

Surveys like this indicate that the people making such decisions are out of touch with the everyday issues that create an impetus to not hire the best qualified people but the best we can get that fit all the other parameters that have been foisted off onto the civil service by legisators, both state and federal. In a very real sense, government agencies have been hijacked and diverted from the missions for which they were organized to accomplish social goals which the Powers that B deem more important. Jobs are held open for favored groups. Workers also tire of being political footballs, kicked back and forth and blamed for legislators’ profligate spending. While in civil service we often get a considerable amount of money and responsibility early in our careers, we top out fairly quickly leaving us with no promotion or salary potential. In a very real sense, government workers cannot be fired for failure to do their jobs resulting in the good workers having to carry the few bad ones with the public whom we are supposed to serve paying the price. Has anyone noticed that many of the primary recruiting tools (days off, shorter work hours, generous retirement) tend in reality to emphasize how nice it is when we are not at work? The culture of fear where everyone is looking over their shoulders does not help. these are the issues that must be addressed but, since they do not lend themselves to quick fixes, tend to be ignored in favor of things like salaries which appear to have an immediate impact but ultimately do not increase retention. Salary increases do, however, make public-worker unions happy which translates to contributions to politicans which makes them happy. What about those of us in the trenches?