Human Capital:

MSHA's Revised Hiring Process Has Improved the Agency's Recruiting Efforts, but Its Human Capital Strategic Plan Does Not Adequately Project or Address Its Future Workforce Needs

GAO-07-704R: Published: May 16, 2007. Publicly Released: May 16, 2007.

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In 2003, GAO recommended that the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) develop a plan for addressing anticipated shortages in the number of qualified inspectors due to upcoming retirements, including considering options such as streamlining the agency's hiring process and offering retention bonuses. As you requested, we conducted follow-up work on the implementation of this recommendation. We reviewed MSHA's human capital planning documents and obtained data on the number of inspectors employed by MSHA and the number of them eligible for retirement. In addition, we interviewed officials responsible for MSHA's human resources department, officials in MSHA's district offices, and officials at the National Mine Health and Safety Academy. We completed our work between June 2006 and March 2007 in accordance with generally accepted government auditing standards. In 2004, MSHA began a new process for hiring mine inspectors under the auspices of the Federal Career Intern Program (FCIP)--a federal program designed to recruit and retain high caliber candidates and develop their professional abilities. The use of the FCIP has led to a number of improvements in inspector recruiting and hiring, such as being able to identify applicants with the basic skills needed to be a successful inspector early in the process and decreasing the time it takes the agency to hire new inspectors. Since MSHA began using the program, the agency has hired 236 new coal mine inspector trainees. However, while MSHA has taken significant steps to improve its hiring process, the agency's human capital plan does not include a strategic approach for addressing the large number of retirements expected in the next 5 years. MSHA estimates that over 40 percent of its inspectors will be eligible for retirement by 2012. District officials expressed concerns about the impact that losing experienced inspectors may have on the agency's ability to achieve its goals, particularly completing required safety and health inspections on time.

MSHA has taken significant steps to reform its process to recruit and hire new mine inspectors. However, the high attrition expected over the next 5 years, coupled with the amount of time needed to train new inspectors to become proficient at their duties, means the agency could jeopardize these successes without a clear and well-thought-out plan that addresses the expected turnover in its experienced workforce. While the agency has data on expected retirements and its recent attrition, it has not utilized this information in a strategic approach to prepare for the longer-term needs of the agency. Because MSHA does not utilize the data it already collects, and has not developed measurable goals, the agency's ability to monitor and evaluate its progress toward meeting its human capital goals is inhibited.

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

    Recommendation for Executive Action

    Recommendation: Given the long lead time needed to train new inspectors to replace those retiring, MSHA needs to focus its planning efforts on estimating and managing the large number of expected retirements. To begin this process, the agency should engage in a strategic planning effort that utilizes the data it collects on expected retirements and actual attrition to develop goals that can be monitored and evaluated.

    Agency Affected: Department of Labor: Mine Safety and Health Administration

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) developed a strategic plan that outlined steps it plans to take to implement this recommendation. Included in those steps was the development of a Civilian Human Resources Strategic Plan FY2006-FY2011. The plan is intended to serve as a strategy roadmap and a means to measure performance. The key goals of the plan are to (1) develop and promote a focused recruiting program to hire the best talent available; (2) foster an organization that encourages continual learning to develop competencies required to fulfill MSHA's mission; (3) implement DOL's e-government initiatives to strategically manage human capital; (4) identify mission-critical skills, knowledge, and competency gaps/deficiencies and use competency model to close gaps; and (5) utilize data-driven, results-oriented planning and accounting systems to make human capital decisions. For example, MSHA is using data to monitor upcoming separations and retirements. In addition, they are using data to learn about the number of inspectors who are experienced and those that are new to the agency to understand the balance of their workforce that is at "full performance."

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