Human Capital:

Selected Agencies Have Opportunities to Enhance Existing Succession Planning and Management Efforts

GAO-05-585: Published: Jun 30, 2005. Publicly Released: Aug 1, 2005.

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As the federal government confronts an array of challenges in the 21st century, it must employ strategic human capital management, including succession planning, to help meet those challenges. Leading organizations go beyond a succession planning approach that focuses on replacing individuals and engage in broad, integrated succession planning and management efforts that focus on strengthening current and future organizational capacity. GAO reviewed how the Census Bureau, Department of Labor (DOL), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) are implementing succession planning and management efforts.

The Census Bureau, DOL, EPA, and VHA have all implemented succession planning and management efforts that collectively are intended to strengthen organizational capacity. However, in light of governmentwide fiscal challenges, the agencies have opportunities to enhance some of their succession efforts. While all of the agencies have assigned responsibility for their succession planning and management efforts to councils or boards, VHA has established a subcommittee and high-level positions that are directly responsible for its succession efforts. Also, VHA and the Census Bureau specifically mention succession planning and management as performance expectations in their executives' performance plans. The four agencies have begun to link succession efforts to strategic planning. For example, DOL plans to shift from a historical enforcement role to a compliance assistance and consulting role, requiring stronger skills in communication and analysis. To attract and retain employees with such skills, DOL launched the Masters in Business Administration Fellows program in 2002, which it considers one of its major succession training and development programs. Monitoring mission-critical workforce needs helps make informed planning decisions. DOL, EPA, and VHA have identified gaps in occupations or competencies, have undertaken strategies to address these gaps, and are planning or are taking steps to monitor their progress in closing these gaps. The Census Bureau could strengthen the monitoring of its mission-critical occupations more closely and at a higher level to ensure it is prepared for the 2010 Decennial Census. Effective training and development programs can enhance the federal government's ability to achieve results. All of the agencies' succession efforts include training and development programs at all organizational levels. However, in the current budget environment, there are opportunities to coordinate and share these programs and create synergies through benchmarking with others, achieving economies of scale, limiting duplication of efforts, and enhancing the effectiveness of programs, among other things. Performance measures for these programs can also help agencies evaluate these programs' effects on organizational capacity and justify their value. Finally, agencies have recognized the importance of diversity to a successful workforce and use succession planning and management to enhance their workforce diversity.

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: To help reinforce succession planning and management efforts, the Secretary of VA should seek appropriate opportunities to coordinate and share core succession training and development programs with other outside agencies to achieve economies of scale, limit duplication of efforts, benchmark with high-performing agencies, keep abreast of current practices, enhance efficiency, and increase the effectiveness of its programs.

    Agency Affected: Department of Veterans Affairs

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Consistent with our recommendation, VA promotes the dissemination of ideas and best practices with other Federal agencies in the areas of succession planning and workforce development programs and seeks opportunities to coordinate and shares its core succession traning and development programs with outside agencies. For example, as part of OPM's Succession Planning Forum on September 26, 2007, the Department of Veterans Affairs/Veterans Health Administration presented Succession Planning and Workforce Development as a best practice to other federal agencies. VHA says it promotes inter-agency collaboration and is in the process of implementing a benchmarking contract to identify industry best practices to provide an unbiased comparison of VHA to other leading private and public sector organizations, and to make recommendations for program improvements.

    Recommendation: To help reinforce succession planning and management efforts, the Secretary of Labor should seek appropriate opportunities to coordinate and share core succession training and development programs with other outside agencies to achieve economies of scale, limit duplication of efforts, benchmark with high-performing agencies, keep abreast of current practices, enhance efficiency, and increase the effectiveness of its programs.

    Agency Affected: Department of Labor

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In May 2006 the Department of Labor launched the 2006/2007 SES Candidate Development Program. This class had 22 candidates, two of which were from EPA and Energy. In order to leverage limited resources and economies of scale, Labor partnered with Commerce in October 2006 to jointly conduct one of the core training sessions for each Department's respective SES CDP classes, with 22 candidates from each agency. In addition, Labor informed us that the Department has conducted numerous briefings and information sessions with other federal agencies on the DOL Management Development Program. Specifically, the Department provided a general description and program overview documents to the consortia members of the Federal Agency Training Directors groups (a community of practice of Human Resource Development managers). In August 2006, the 2006/2007 MDP class launched with 37 selectees from within the DOL agencies. Labor reported to us that its MBA Fellows Program continues to be an active recruitment program attracting employees with strong analytical skills. The Department continues to promote the MBA Fellows Program at numerous conferences, academic institutions and professional organizations as well as sharing lessons learned with other Federal agencies such as the Departments of Commerce, Defense, Homeland Security, Housing and Urban Development, and the National Institute of Health.

    Recommendation: To help reinforce succession planning and management efforts, the Administrator of EPA should evaluate core succession training and development programs to assess the extent to which programs contribute to enhancing organizational capacity. When deciding the appropriate analytical approach and level of evaluation, EPA should consider factors such as estimated costs of training efforts, size of training audience, and program visibility, among other things.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In its 2006 letter to Congress responding to our recommendations, EPA stated that it agrees with this recommendation. EPA stated that it has evaluated two core succession programs and concluded they are achieving results. EPA stated that the agency has assessed the EPA Intern Program and determined that it successfully achieves the intended goals. As a result of the evaluation, EPA identified opportunities to reduce administrative costs. In addition, EPA completed a formal evaluation of the SES Candidate Development Program in March 2004. This study focused on recruitment and selection of candidates with emphasis on the diversity and caliber of the candidates and human capital and training opportunities to prepare potential leaders for the SES program. The evaluation recommended improving communications with applicants and expanding leadership opportunities for potential candidates. Also, EPA has recently celebrated the first anniversary of its Successful Leaders Program. EPA stated that over one hundred new and existing supervisors have engaged in the program, with outstanding evaluations from program participants. In addition, EPA says that Level III and Level IV training evaluation processes are being developed to assess changes in behavior and skill level, and that these evaluations were implemented in 2008.

    Recommendation: To help reinforce succession planning and management efforts, the Administrator of EPA should seek appropriate opportunities to coordinate and share core succession training and development programs with other outside agencies to achieve economies of scale, limit duplication of efforts, benchmark with high-performing agencies, keep abreast of current practices, enhance efficiency, and increase the effectiveness of its programs.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In its 2006 letter to Congress responding to our recommendations, EPA stated that it agrees with this recommendation. EPA says it has many programs underway under the leadership of the National Training Manager, who coordinates with other federal training directors to identify and collaborate on appropriate training and development opportunities. For example, EPA stated that it is sharing the "Stepping Up to Supervision" program with VA and GPO. According to EPA the program has been fully developed and implemented and is designed to inform employees about the roles and responsibilities of senior managers in order to broaden their horizons on whether to consider pursuing a supervisory trainer position in the future. EPA and the VA have partnered in successfully training numerous trainers from both agencies to facilitate the course. Another example provided by EPA is the current partnership between EPA and VA focusing on their Presidential Management Fellows (PMF) program. The VA has also shared various activities associated with its PMF program with the EPA. EPA stated that the sharing of this information has proved to be invaluable as EPA works with other federal agencies to enhance leadership development within the federal sector.

    Recommendation: To help reinforce succession planning and management efforts, the Secretary of Commerce should ensure that the Director of Census evaluate core succession training and development programs to assess the extent to which programs contribute to enhancing organizational capacity. When deciding the appropriate analytical approach and level of evaluation, the Bureau should consider factors such as estimated costs of training efforts, size of training audience, and program visibility, among other things.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: According to Commerce, the Training Officer, Workforce Development Branch, beginning in fiscal year 2007, conducts an annual training needs assessment and accomplishments report to review current programs for alignment with agency mission and goals and make cost-effective recommendations for new or expanded programs. Formal and informal evaluations of programs are conducted to ascertain the extent to which programs are contributing to organizational goals and to facilitate program modifications.

    Recommendation: To help reinforce succession planning and management efforts, the Secretary of Commerce should ensure that the Director of Census seek appropriate opportunities to coordinate and share core succession training and development programs with other outside agencies to achieve economies of scale, limit duplication of efforts, benchmark with high-performing agencies, keep abreast of current practices, enhance efficiency, and increase the effectiveness of its programs.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Commerce/Census believes that this recommendation should be directed to the Office of Personnel Management. It is Commerce's position that the Office of Personnel Management should act as the clearinghouse for agency training curricula and training information and that no further action is required on their part, and thus has no actions planned to respond to this recommendation.

    Recommendation: To help reinforce succession planning and management efforts, the Secretary of Commerce should ensure that the Director of Census strengthen the monitoring of its mission-critical workforce by identifying mission-critical workforce gaps, developing strategies to address gaps, evaluating progress toward closing gaps, and adjusting strategies accordingly.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Commerce reported to us that the Census Bureau, in late 2006, identified the competencies needed for present and future work in its mission critical and major occupations. The competencies developed serve as the core of Census' workforce development programs. Additionally, Census has developed a more robust Management Development Program and Curriculum for all managers and supervisors and has launched a one-year (March 2007 to February 2008) pilot mentoring program designed to strengthen the Census Bureau's ability to meet its strategic goals, objectives, and succession planning efforts by developing its employees and providing a means for knowledge sharing.

    Recommendation: To help reinforce succession planning and management efforts, the Secretary of VA should evaluate core succession training and development programs to assess the extent to which programs contribute to enhancing organizational capacity. When deciding the appropriate analytical approach and level of evaluation, VHA should consider factors such as estimated costs of training efforts, size of training audience, and program visibility, among other things.

    Agency Affected: Department of Veterans Affairs

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: VHA stated that to meet the challenge of impending baby-boomer retirements, recruiting in a highly competitive labor market, and to help ensure that VHA has a highly qualified, trained, and diverse workforce to meet its current and future needs, the agency has developed a comprehensive workforce and succession planning process that addresses multiple areas that include recruitment, retention, leadership development, supervisory training, employee morale and satisfaction, and workforce diversity. In FY 2008, VHA completed an evaluation of its leadership develoment programs looking at factors as performance, promotions, satisfaction scores, etc. for both candidates of the programs and those who were not candidates to assess the effectiveness. VHA used results from the evaluation to modify program content and implement recommendations for improvement.

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