Human Capital:

DHS Personnel System Design Effort Provides for Collaboration and Employee Participation

GAO-03-1099: Published: Sep 30, 2003. Publicly Released: Sep 30, 2003.

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The success of the transformation and implementation of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is based largely on the degree to which human capital management issues are addressed. Recognizing this, the legislation creating DHS provided it with significant flexibility to design a modern human capital management system. Congressional requesters asked GAO to describe the process DHS has in place to design its human capital system and involve employees, and analyze the extent to which this process reflects elements of successful transformations.

The effort to design a human capital management system for DHS generally reflects important elements of effective transformations. (1) Leadership: One of the strengths of the effort to transform the culture of organizations going into DHS has been the on-going commitment of both DHS and Office of Personnel Management (OPM) leaders to stimulate and support the effort to design a human capital system. (2) Strategic Goals: DHS is currently developing a strategic plan. Although DHS human resource leaders are included on the strategic planning team, it will not be complete until the end of September 2003. Consequently, DHS will need to ensure that the development of the human capital policy options is integrated with the accomplishment of DHS programmatic goals as defined in the forthcoming strategic plan. Such integration is important to ensure that the human capital system enables the department to acquire, develop, and retain the core competencies necessary for DHS to accomplish its programmatic goals. (3) Key Principles: The DHS Secretary and OPM Director outlined four principles to serve as a critical framework for the human capital system. These principles appropriately identify the need to support the mission and employees of the department, protect basic civil service principles, and hold employees accountable for performance. (4) Timeline: Agency officials established an ambitious 9- to 10-month timeline for completing the design process, aiming to issue final regulations in early 2004. Some DHS stakeholders we interviewed expressed concerns about the compressed schedule. Officials leading the design effort report the aggressive schedule is necessary to relieve employee anxiety and maximize the time available for implementation. (5) Design Team: The design team includes staff from multiple organizational units within DHS, OPM, and the three major unions. (6) Communication: DHS recently finalized a communication plan that provides a structured and planned approach to communicate with DHS stakeholders regarding the human capital system. Moving forward, DHS will need to provide adequate opportunities for feedback once the options are released. (7) Employee Involvement: Employees are provided multiple opportunities to be included in the design process, including participation in the Core Design Team, the Town Hall meetings, the field team, the focus groups, and an e-mail mailbox for employee comments. Experience has shown that in making major changes in the cultures of organizations, how it is done, when it is done, and the basis on which it is done can make all the difference in whether it is ultimately successful. The analysis of DHS's effort to design a human capital system can be particularly instructive in light of legislative requests for agency-specific human capital flexibilities at the Department of Defense and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

Status Legend:

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  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: In addition, the Secretary of DHS should clarify the role of the participants in the design effort and other areas of confusion identified by stakeholders during our interviews.

    Agency Affected: Office of Personnel Management

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: The statutory collaboration period, when the Department of Homeland Security would have implemented this recommendation, closed and thus the recommendation was no longer applicable.

    Recommendation: DHS has developed an effective process to begin the formation of its new human capital system. Moving forward, it is critical that the new human capital system be linked to the DHS strategic plan and that DHS continue to communicate with and involve its employees. Accordingly, once the strategic plan is completed the Secretary of DHS and the Director of OPM should ensure that the options selected for the new human capital system support and facilitate the accomplishment of the department's strategic goals and objectives, as identified in the new strategic plan.

    Agency Affected: Office of Personnel Management

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In February 2005, the Department of Homeland Security issued its final regulations for its new human capital system. They provide for employee involvement in the further development of the implementing directives and participation on the compensation committee as well as in the identification of the scope, objectives, and methodology to be used in the evaluations of the system. The Department is also seeking feedback and offered an online survey about the communication effort.

    Recommendation: DHS has developed an effective process to begin the formation of its new human capital system. Moving forward, it is critical that the new human capital system be linked to the DHS strategic plan and that DHS continue to communicate with and involve its employees. Accordingly, once the strategic plan is completed the Secretary of DHS and the Director of OPM should ensure that the options selected for the new human capital system support and facilitate the accomplishment of the department's strategic goals and objectives, as identified in the new strategic plan.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: Directorate of Management

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In February 2004, the Department of Homeland Security issued its strategic plan. Subsequently, in February 2005, the Department issued its final regulations for its new human capital system. As part of that system, employees' performance expectations must align with and support the Department's mission and strategic goals. Linking organizational goals to individual performance is consistent with leading practice.

    Recommendation: Furthermore, consistent with the DHS communications plan, the Secretary should ensure the message communicated across DHS components is consistent, and maximize opportunities for two-way communication and employee involvement through the completion of the design process, the release of the system options, and implementation, with special emphasis placed on seeking the feedback and buy-in of front-line employees in the field.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: Directorate of Management

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In Feb. 2005, DHS issued its final regulations for its new human capital system. These regulations provide for employee involvement in the further development of the implementing directives and participation on the compensation committee. DHS has also offered an online survey about the communication effort.

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