Do we need comprehensive legislation to transform the way our government hires, develops and rewards employees.

Home Forums Leadership and Management Do we need comprehensive legislation to transform the way our government hires, develops and rewards employees.

This topic contains 3 replies, has 4 voices, and was last updated by  Scott Hutchens 6 years, 7 months ago.

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  • #182270

    Dave Bell


    Congress should create a unified dispute resolution process for all individual employee complaints that preserves due process rights, but speeds decision-making and ensures accountability.

    Also a meaningful reform package would include a market-sensitive pay system so government can attract and compete for top talent. The raging political debate over whether federal employees are paid too much or too little is the wrong conversation. The real question should be whether we are paying an appropriate amount, and no more, to get the talent and skills we need to properly serve the public—or in this case, our nation’s veterans.

    The answer is to pay our employees by occupation the way every other effective organization in the country does it. This requires creation of a market-sensitive labor system for all professional positions that would establish pay rates roughly comparable to those of major private sector employers hiring for similar jobs, and that accounts for differences based on skill sets and levels of responsibility.

    It also is essential to change the way federal agencies hire. Over the years, various laws and procedural requirements have complicated the federal hiring process, making it slow, complex and opaque. The process is so cumbersome and mysterious, it discourages candidates from applying and even if they do apply, there is little faith that the system identifies the best candidate for the job.

  • #182274

    Elizabeth Sullivan

    The hiring process takes so long that potential hires get other jobs during the time the government gets everything together. I have seen this more than once as I schedule interviews.

  • #182272

    Mark Hammer

    A bunch of different topics in your post, some of which are VA-specific, and some of which are more generic. I’ll address the generic.

    Apart from survey design and data analysis, one of the things I do for a living is read the thousands and thousands of comments we get from hiring managers and job applicants in our annual staffing survey. Ours is, I might add, one of the only, if not THE only, surveys that is sort of a system-wide audit of individual staffing activities, as opposed to a more general what-do-you-think-about-your-agency’s-staffing survey (which the FEVS and MSPB surveys are). I must have gone through at least 40,000 comments in the last 9 years since I’ve been doing this. I offer this from the Canadian perspective, but I can’t imagine the American scenario is especially different.

    There is a substantial gulf between the job application experiences in the private sector and public sector. The private sector can afford to be expeditious because at-will-employment gives them the latitude to use dismissal as their quality-control mechanism, rather than placing the entire onus on a complex and (hopefully) foolproof intake system. That’s neither better or worse, but it does set conflicting expectations about what “normal” ought to be.

    Those who apply to the public service from outside are accustomed to a faster turnaround time. That different prior experience, coupled with the likely need for employment results in impatience. That such persons can often be younger and eager to establish themselves (and maybe pay off that student debtload) also increases impatience. We see in our own data that younger persons, including those already in the PS, tend to apply to a lot more positions, and are less patient about the time it takes to get an answer. My sense is that the impatience is not a youthful character flaw as much as a desire to clarify, when so many possibilities remain unresolved. We all need to do a better job explaining to people why things take so long, and also keeping them in touch with where things are at – like a FEDEX/UPS parcel-tracking system.

    Those inside the PS are not pleased by how long things take, but at least apply to competitions from a position of strength (i.e., they already HAVE a secure job) so anxiety plays much less of a role.

    One of the things we see in our own data is that delay and slow turnaround times is a function of the many stakeholders and participants. If you can get in and out fast, then you stand a reasonable chance of hiring quickly. But any single source of delay (which could be as simple as trying to figure out, and arrange for, a testing accommodation for one candidate) increases the likelihood of another source of delay cropping up, which potentiates another, and so on. A staffing activity begun several months before the new fiscal year suddenly finds itself facing a new budget, and upper management wondering how they’ll make that budget work, given the objectives and priorities for the year, so just hold off on that hire for a bit. And then the approval process changes. And then the HR advisor who was going to shepherd you through the hire goes off on maternity leave and a new, less seasoned HR person inherits your file. And then a new senior bureaucrat takes the helm of the agency after the previous one retires, and priorities shift, so if you could just hold off a bit longer….

    You get the picture.

    Incidentally, we make a point of asking managers if the staffing activity they are reporting on was vacancy-driven or not. If so, we also ask them just how much advance warning they had of that impending vacancy. Sometimes, they’re lucky, and they get plenty of warning about impending retirements and such, but in about half the cases, managers had a month or less to backfill a vacancy. An employee gets ill, or pops in and says “I’ve accepted a position elsewhere. I start there in 2 weeks.” Small wonder managers are an impatient lot. The work doesn’t go away, but the employees do.

    The nimbleness of a “market-sensitive pay system” is, I think, something we should have very conservative expectations for. Let’s take education and the development of labor-market-sensitive programs as an example. Employers regularly complain about labor shortages, and how they have to look abroad for trained professionals in this area or that. Post-secondary institutions do their best to try and respond to employer needs, but it can easily take a half-dozen years to: a) identify just exactly what those skill shortages and employer needs are, b) figure out how that would translate into training programs, c) develop an agreed-upon curriculum/program, d) establish budgets for such programs, e) figure out if faculty need to be hired, and hire them, f) get the students in the door, and g) graduate those students.

    The net result is that, try as they might, the necessary operational steps always put education well behind the rather fickle and constantly-shifting demands of employers.

    So let’s port this over to the compensation domain. Establishing a market-sensitive pay system would necessitate the establishment of some reliable means for knowing what the market pays, as well as knowing to whom in the public sector those private-sector compensation rates apply. Remember, jobs in industry keep shifting, and so do jobs in the public sphere, with little guarantee of a one-to-one correspondence. My job might be comparable to a private sector job today, but not next year. Establishment of those rates is one thing, and budgeting for them and getting the money from legislators is another thing again. Much like the sluggish response to market demands in the education system, public-sector responses to market compensation rates will also lag. We should certainly do our best to keep up – compensation can’t be completely non-competitive with the private sector – but again, don’t expect the PS to be in lock-step.

    I also can’t emphasize enough that private-sector compensation rates correspond somewhat to revenues and profits, and are often used to attract a workforce that will increase revenues. Last time I checked, government only spends less by attracting a topnotch committed workforce, but they don’t make more money. So offsetting higher compensation rates with profits isn’t happening. That’s also the principle reason why pay-for-performance is a nonstarter in the public sector.

    Is there any wholesale legislation that could conceivably alter all that, still make rigorously-assessed merit at the point of intake an underlying aspect of federal hiring, and yield faster turnaround time? I have my doubts. I won’t say it isn’t worth trying…but bring a lunch and a change of clothes.

  • #240574

    Scott Hutchens

    The answer to this question is “Absolutely”. Unfortunately the culture of federal hire is not in line with the culture Obama dictated and what every non-vet, wished and hoped for. Instead what you have is a buffer (HR) to prevent the appearance of a supervisor helping a fellow “Vet” or someone they have in mind already. Folks you’ll be kidding yourself if you don’t believe this happens. This happens daily. I’ve even seen it where a military major about to retire actually create a position (GS13) for himself so when he retired he got the job. He literally wrote the position description and signed off on it. Where do I get this information? From two federal employee’s of 30+ years in it an I am a military brat. At one point one of them worked in HR. Many moons ago people would tell others they had the job just be patient “we have to go through the process” but you got the job. Then Obama and other reforms put in place a system (that we have today) that appears to be completely fair on paper however what you get is Federal managers just “Working the system with the same hiring culture. Yes I can do a public records request however, what good is that going to do? Of 3 public records requests on jobs I applied for 2 of them I was clearly the best qualified candidate but alas they hire the son of a person already working there who supposedly had volunteer experience that was better than my paid experience for the past 4 years. Same culture different appearance. There needs to be a complete overhaul. Don’t make it prettier and easier for everyone if your not going to hire anyone. Don’t promise others a job they haven’t applied for and eliminate others. You want to know why the Fed can’t retain and pursue the best of the best. See above…..If the opportunity is out there for folks they will come if they know the Company culture is fair. Nuff said……no one will listen I just added this due to frustrations in the completely bogus Hire system with the federal gov.

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