Human Capital:

Corps of Engineers Needs to Update Its Workforce Planning Process to More Effectively Address Its Current and Future Workforce Needs

GAO-08-596: Published: May 7, 2008. Publicly Released: May 7, 2008.

Additional Materials:

Contact:

Anne-Marie Lasowski Fennell
(202) 512-9846
contact@gao.gov

 

Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800
youngc1@gao.gov

With a workforce of about 35,000, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (the Corps) provides engineering services for civil works and military programs in the United States and overseas. Recently, the Corps' focus has shifted to also support contingency operations, such as responding to natural disasters. To meet its mission and emerging priorities, the Corps must have effective human capital planning processes to ensure that it can maintain its workforce. In this context, GAO was asked to examine the (1) extent to which the Corps has aligned its human capital plan with its strategic plan, (2) extent to which the Corps has the information necessary to identify and meet current and future workforce needs, and (3) challenges the Corps faces in meeting its workforce needs. To address these issues, GAO reviewed agency human capital and strategic planning documents, conducted structured interviews with eight Corps divisions and a purposeful sample of 14 of its districts, and interviewed other Corps officials.

The Corps' strategic human capital plan is outdated; is not aligned with the agency's most recent strategic plan, which was developed in 2005; and is inconsistently used across the agency. Specifically, the human capital plan has not been revised since it was developed in 2002, and it is therefore not aligned with the Corps' current strategic plan. Headquarters officials told GAO they "abandoned" the use of the plan and replaced it with the human capital updates required under a presidential initiative. While these updates list the Corps' human capital activities and milestones for completing them, they do not contain key components of an effective human capital plan, such as goals, strategies, and a system for measuring performance. Moreover, the outdated human capital plan is being used inconsistently across the agency. Some divisions and districts are still using the 2002 plan to guide their human capital efforts, while others are relying on guidance from headquarters or the Office of Personnel Management or developing their own guidance. Without a current, consistently implemented human capital plan that is aligned with its strategic plan, the Corps' ability to effectively manage its workforce is limited. The Corps lacks the necessary agencywide information on critical skills to identify and assess current and future workforce needs and therefore cannot effectively perform its workforce planning activities. Effective workforce planning depends on consistent agencywide data on the critical skills needed to achieve the agency's mission. However, the Corps does not have a process for collecting consistent agencywide data, and headquarters has not provided guidance to the divisions and districts on how to gather this information systematically. Without guidance, some divisions and districts have collected this information independently, using varying methods, leaving the Corps with inconsistent and incomplete data with which to assess the agency's overall workforce needs. As a result, the Corps' ability to determine effective approaches to recruiting, developing, and retaining personnel is limited. Realizing the need for consistent information on critical skills, the Corps recently began an effort to systematically collect these data. However, it is too early to assess the Corps' progress on this effort. The Corps faces several challenges to its workforce planning efforts, such as competition from the private sector and others to hire qualified staff. To address these challenges, the Corps uses human capital tools such as recruitment and retention incentives. However, the Corps' use of some tools has sharply decreased recently. For example, in fiscal year 2002 the Corps awarded $750,000 in recruitment bonuses, but in 2006 this dropped to $24,000. One official told GAO he has had to hire less qualified staff because he has been unable to offer sufficient incentives. Moreover, the Corps lacks a process for assessing the effectiveness of the tools it uses. Consequently, the Corps can neither determine the overall costs and benefits of using these tools nor decide whether additional methods are needed to recruit, develop, and retain its current and future workforce.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • 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 the Corps better manage its workforce planning efforts, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Commanding General and Chief of Engineers of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to develop a human capital plan that is directly linked to the Corps' current strategic plan and that contains all the key components of an effective plan as outlined by the Office of Personnel Management.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In April 2012, the Corps published an updated Human Capital Strategic Plan for 2012-2017. The updated plan includes the Corps' strategic direction along with a figure to illustrate how the Corps' human capital goals and objectives align with the Corps' strategic plan (also called a campaign plan). The plan also discusses implementation efforts and an accountability system for the Corps' human capital activities.

    Recommendation: To help the Corps better manage its workforce planning efforts, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Commanding General and Chief of Engineers of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to distribute the revised plan agencywide and direct the divisions and districts to use it to guide their human capital activities.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Corps headquarters distributed the updated Human Capital Strategic Plan for 2012-2017 to division commanders, via an email message in May 2012. Corps headquarters also sent an email message to the divisions' human resources directors and directed them to distribute the new plan to districts. In addition to the email distribution, the Corps posted the human capital plan on its SharePoint site for division and district use.

    Recommendation: To help the Corps better manage its workforce planning efforts, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Commanding General and Chief of Engineers of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to develop and implement a process for determining the effectiveness of the human capital tools the Corps is using so that it can adjust their use, as necessary, to meet workforce needs.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: According to the Corps, it surveys employees to determine the effectiveness of using human capital tools, such as recruitment, relocation, and retention bonuses. The Corps began to use an annual survey conducted by the Office of Personnel Management in 2010 to track the effectiveness of the human capital tools the agency uses. In addition, the Corps conducted a survey that specifically focused on the agency's use of human capital tools in 2011.

    Jul 15, 2014

    Jun 6, 2014

    May 8, 2014

    Apr 9, 2014

    Mar 4, 2014

    Jan 29, 2014

    Jul 18, 2013

    Jul 8, 2013

    Apr 16, 2013

    Mar 15, 2013

    Looking for more? Browse all our products here