Federal Employees News Digest

Senior execs detail OPM modernization tactics

The Senior Executives Association, which represents members of the Senior Executive Service and other federal mangers, is looking for sweeping changes to the government's human resources organization and practice.

Among other things, SEA wants the head of the Office of Personnel Management to operate above the political fray by giving the OPM director a five- to eight-year term that aligns with traditionally nonpartisan functions like the head of the Census or the Government Accountability Office.

That is just one of 16 major recommendations offered in "Transforming the Governance of Federal Human Capital Management," a report that looks to better align human resources management and oversight in Congress and the White House as well as across individual agencies, reform and rename OPM and modernize the federal workplace and civil service rules.

The report cites data familiar to federal workforce watchers: high transactional costs, lack of a central human capital strategy, an inability to add younger employees and workers with needed skillsets. Frequent political funding fights and government shutdowns are keeping agencies from conducting human capital planning.

Added to that, the report states, is the assertion that "the federal government is no longer an inspirational employer."

One example of this offered in the report – workers under age 30 constitute just 6% of the U.S. federal government workforce. In Canada, it's 10%; in Australia 11%; in the United Kingdom 13%; in New Zealand 14%.

"When it comes to attracting the next generation of skilled workers who can innovate the future and become government leaders and managers, the pool is drying up and there is an urgent need to address this," the report states.

Additionally, the overall cost of human capital management is unknown. Excluding the U.S. Post Office, the federal government spends about $300 billion annually on salary and benefits. But the costs of talent acquisition and training are unknown. The report looks to get a handle on HR costs and to drive them down through a scorecard tool similar to that used to conduct IT oversight under the Federal Information Technology and Acquisition Reform Act.

The report also looks to have Congress streamline its oversight of the federal workforce by establishing select committees on the federal workforce in both the House and Senate. Additionally, it recommends reorganizing OPM with a new office of strategic programs and a new focus on tech. While the authors reject a wholesale merger with the General Services Administration, they are in favor of tasking GSA with OPM's acquisition and facilities management functions.

The report backs giving OPM unified responsibility for all civilian personnel and pay, bringing together authorities under Title 5, Title 38 and Title 42. Additionally, the report suggests it is time to at least study the possibility of outsourcing benefits administration to a contractor, as is done by many Fortune 500 companies.

What are the chances that such sweeping reform can be put into place under divided government? The authors are hopeful, but they didn't have much in the way of practical solutions to getting both chambers of Congress and the executive branch on board with the plan in the near term.

"SEA has consistently through this administration tried to soften the conversation away from 'reform' which connotes that something is broken and use the language of modernization," Jason Briefel, SEA's executive director said. "We're recognizing that people who are working within the federal workforce are committed public servants."

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