Managing Human Resources:

Greater OPM Leadership Needed to Address Critical Challenges

GGD-89-19: Published: Jan 19, 1989. Publicly Released: Jan 19, 1989.

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GAO conducted a general management review of the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), focusing on its leadership role in addressing governmentwide human resource problems.

GAO found that: (1) the federal government has difficulty hiring, managing, and retaining quality staff; (2) such factors as lack of comparable pay with the private sector, a widespread negative image of federal service, and short-term budget cuts have been cited as limiting the government's ability to hire and retain quality personnel; (3) OPM has not developed a systematic planning effort to identify and resolve current and future human resource problems governmentwide; (4) OPM has not established a database to measure the quality of the federal workforce and has approved only four research and demonstration projects in 10 years; and (5) OPM has not provided agencies with workforce planning guidelines to properly identify governmentwide staffing needs. GAO believes that OPM needs to: (1) develop a program to continually assess its hiring efforts; (2) assist other agencies in their efforts to improve performance management and productivity; (3) reinforce its oversight and evaluation efforts; and (4) resolve internal management morale and communications problems.

Matter for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: No specific actions have been taken relative to this recommendation. Congress appears satisfied to cover this recommendation through questioning of OPM officials during oversight and appropriations hearings without the structure of an annual OPM assessment of specific items.

    Matter: Congress should make greater use of the oversight and appropriation process to establish a clear record of OPM plans, programs, and results and better hold OPM accountable for meeting the goals of the Civil Service Reform Act. For example, Congress could require that OPM provide, on an annual basis, an assessment of the status of the federal work force and a detailed discussion of OPM activities in such critical areas as planning, staffing, performance improvement, and oversight.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The OPM Civil Service 2000 report identified the basic demographic issues facing agencies. Using Labor and CPM data, trends in key occupations are tracked, highlighted in the quarterly Federal Staffing Digest, and shared with agencies. In 1989, OPM implemented a continuing data collection program which will be used to monitor and assess the quality of applicants and hires into federal service.

    Recommendation: The Director, OPM, should establish an ongoing, viable planning program to identify and prepare the government for its future workforce needs as an integral part of OPM activities. Such a program should include, at a minimum: (1) establishing a continuing effort to identify key emerging demographic, social, and economic trends and changes to the structure of the federal workforce; (2) developing information on the quality of the federal workforce; (3) enhancing analysis of the staffing implications of the federal pay structure; and (4) identifying and addressing the potential staffing repercussions of the Federal Employees Retirement System.

    Agency Affected: Office of Personnel Management

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Beginning in the spring of 1989, OPM issued the quarterly Federal Staffing Digest, which gives agencies factual information about trends in supply and demand for key occupations. Information is provided showing the value of workforce planning and techniques which can be used. OPM has analyzed agency college relations and recruitment programs to improve planning and implementation of efforts.

    Recommendation: The Director, OPM, should actively encourage workforce planning in the agencies and provide or help to arrange assistance to the agencies if requested.

    Agency Affected: Office of Personnel Management

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: OPM has introduced the Federal Staffing Digest, which is distributed to agency personnel offices and discusses, among other things, effective workforce planning practices from the public and private sectors. This digest will continue to be published and distributed, with updated information, as a vehicle for sharing information with federal agencies.

    Recommendation: The Director, OPM, should serve as a central clearinghouse for workforce planning practices and trends in the public and private sectors, and publicize successful planning efforts.

    Agency Affected: Office of Personnel Management

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: OPM has developed a research agenda for personnel management research and has developed a data-base inventory of relevant personnel management research. OPM has approved two additional demonstration projects since the report was issued, filling 7 of 10 statutory slots for demonstration projects.

    Recommendation: The Director, OPM, should culminate the recently initiated efforts to increase the quantity and quality of personnel management research with a well-defined research strategy, and provide usable products to the agencies.

    Agency Affected: Office of Personnel Management

  5. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: The OPM position is that cost-effectiveness is a judgement for agencies to make when they decide whether they want to continue in the program. OPM did collect cost (direct salary) figures from agencies, but found the data to be unreliable, not collected systematically, and sometimes estimated.

    Recommendation: The Director, OPM, should require ongoing assessments of the OPM staffing program. At a minimum, this assessment effort should include instituting systematic reviews of the effectiveness of delegated examining, including establishing, in consultation with the agencies, measurable standards for cost, effectiveness, and timeliness.

    Agency Affected: Office of Personnel Management

  6. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: OPM has carried out this recommendation through a variety of mechanisms. By contacts with educational institutions, professional organizations, and special interest groups, OPM has solicited feedback on how the federal government can become a competitive employer.

    Recommendation: The Director, OPM, should require ongoing assessments of the OPM staffing program. At a minimum, this assessment effort should include enhancing recruitment feedback mechanisms by seeking continuous input from major recruitment constituencies such as college placement officers, in addition to the agencies.

    Agency Affected: Office of Personnel Management

  7. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: OPM has provided guidance to assist agencies in improving productivity, quality, and performance in the following programs: Performance Management Guidance (FPM Bulletin No. 432-10, August 1989; Incentive Awards and their uses; assistance to agencies in employee involvement in improved operations and services; Training Management Assistance Program; and Employee and Executive Development Programs.

    Recommendation: The Director, OPM, should assert more leadership in ensuring that agencies receive the assistance they need to improve productivity, quality, and performance, including enhancing OPM capability to provide, or help agencies to acquire, special and technical assistance in such areas as setting performance standards, or measuring performance and motivation.

    Agency Affected: Office of Personnel Management

  8. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Specific efforts in this area include: a major contract study in process on performance appraisal techniques under merit pay systems; a demonstration project testing skill-based pay in a participatory work environment; research on performance management systems that complement total quality management; and testing a system involving peer comparison and ranking to allocate increases in compensation

    Recommendation: The Director, OPM, should establish a more aggressive outreach program into the public and private sectors to learn current practices and trends in performance improvement and quality and productivity management.

    Agency Affected: Office of Personnel Management

  9. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: OPM has taken a number of actions to improve its clearinghouse activities in this area, including periodic publications and providing software to agencies, as well as, preparing bibliographies to capture information about recent personnel research findings.

    Recommendation: The Director, OPM, should enhance clearinghouse activities that disseminate information on innovative human resource practices to help agencies wishing to further their performance improvement efforts.

    Agency Affected: Office of Personnel Management

  10. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: OPM has begun to study barriers to the effectiveness of performance management systems. OPM has commissioned research projects from the National Academy of Sciences and another contractor which will both provide extensive coverage of performance management systems outside the federal sector.

    Recommendation: The Director, OPM, should initiate additional research and support new demonstration projects to continue the search for ways to remove the barriers which prevent performance management systems from achieving their potential.

    Agency Affected: Office of Personnel Management

  11. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The OPM task force to study personnel management evaluation systems has completed its work and the resulting interagency work group remains active. Their current focus is specification of the work of agency and OPM evaluators.

    Recommendation: In order to improve agency internal evaluation programs, the Director, OPM, should assess the standards for evaluation systems and make changes where needed.

    Agency Affected: Office of Personnel Management

  12. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: OPM established a clearinghouse containing personnel management evaluation materials collected from many agency headquarters and field installations. Further, OPM announced to agencies in September 1989 the development of a catalog describing the clearinghouse materials. OPM has used the clearinghouse to provide technical assistance to agencies.

    Recommendation: In order to improve agency internal evaluation programs, the Director, OPM, should establish a clearinghouse on good and innovative evaluation methods, techniques, and plans.

    Agency Affected: Office of Personnel Management

  13. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: With support from agencies at the May 1993 Personnel Management Evaluation (PME) Leadership Conference, OPM was in the process of developing an instrument that agencies could use to target candidates with the qualifications needed for PME work and to assess evaluators' developmental needs. The instrument was to be based on a similar one OPM says it developed in FY 1993 to enhance OPM evaluators' capabilities. Although the target completion date was April 1994, OPM said the National Performance Review recommendations make this effort unnecessary.

    Recommendation: In order to improve agency internal evaluation programs, the Director, OPM, should develop qualifications for evaluators and assess the training available to them.

    Agency Affected: Office of Personnel Management

  14. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The OPM fiscal year (FY) 1990 governmentwide evaluation program places greater emphasis on OPM participation in agency-led evaluations. The OPM position is that this kind of participation maximizes the use of available resources to cover more agencies, giving OPM an opportunity to see the agency's self-evaluation efforts at work.

    Recommendation: In order to improve agency internal evaluation programs, the Director, OPM, should increase oversight of agency internal Personnel Management Evaluation programs to include more agencies.

    Agency Affected: Office of Personnel Management

  15. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In January 1990, each OPM program office executive submitted new and revised performance standards for the operations of their organizations. These milestones were designed to enhance the accountability of OPM to its customers, and executive organizational performance to individual performance appraisals. OPM has instituted a new Planning and Budget System to develop work plans.

    Recommendation: The Director, OPM, should initiate an internal management improvement and organization development agenda which includes steps to involve employees in identifying critical areas needing attention and determining causes of problems, and evaluate the results. The Director should ensure that senior executives are committed to, and held accountable for, improving management in their units and implementing the OPM long-term action plan by including components of the plan in their Senior Executive Service contracts.

    Agency Affected: Office of Personnel Management

  16. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Federal Employees Pay Comparability Act has been passed raising the pay ceiling and introducing a locality pay system. Together, these changes address the pay issue to the extent cost considerations and political realities will allow.

    Recommendation: The President should give sustained attention to establishing and maintaining an environment that is more conducive to human resource management. This would entail emphasizing that the ultimate success of federal programs depends in large part on a qualified, motivated, and efficient civil service. It would also involve selecting individuals for leadership positions at OPM who have a demonstrated commitment to such principles. The President should work with Congress to ensure a competitive federal pay and benefit structure.

    Agency Affected: Executive Office of the President

  17. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The OPM FY 1990 evaluation program concentrates discretionary resources on those agencies with weak evaluation programs. This is one of the prime criteria for selection of agencies for on-site compliance reviews, which can be either targeted installation reviews or agency-specific reviews. Forty or 50 targeted installation reviews are expected this year, and about 50 were done last year.

    Recommendation: The Director, OPM, should concentrate OPM in-depth oversight activities on those agencies with weak or nonexistent programs. Once agencies have improved their programs, OPM should reassess its strategy to determine whether an enhanced OPM on-site presence is still necessary.

    Agency Affected: Office of Personnel Management

  18. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In addition to publishing and distributing a new employee handbook, OPM has targeted performance management as an area for management improvement. The Performance Management Information System, an automated system for tracking performance appraisals, has been used to improve communication and followup on performance management. Progress reports are given to agency managers.

    Recommendation: OPM should, at a minimum, develop: (1) mechanisms to improve communication, including clarifying and communicating to all employees the mission, priorities, and goals and objectives for OPM overall and for each unit; and (2) duties, responsibilities, and performance expectations for each employee.

    Agency Affected: Office of Personnel Management

  19. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: OPM is providing internally developed performance management training, designed and delivered by its personnel office staff, to all managers and supervisors agencywide. The training seeks to help managers and supervisors prepare adequate employee performance plans and use the appraisal process to provide feedback on performance. The Director has approved a proposal to develop "survival skills".

    Recommendation: OPM should, at a minimum, provide supervisors and managers with better training or developmental experiences to help them improve their skills in communication, information sharing, and setting and providing feedback on performance expectations.

    Agency Affected: Office of Personnel Management

  20. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: OPM has established a spot award program for effective employees, but the maximum award is $25. However, OPM also established the Fast Track Award Program, which grants $50-$100 for achievements in specific areas. Minimum processing requirements will allow immediate recognition and feedback to employees.

    Recommendation: OPM should, at a minimum, assess ways to improve retention and motivation, including OPM awards systems and promotion processes.

    Agency Affected: Office of Personnel Management

  21. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The OPM Internal Personnel Office, through the use of its automated personnel system and other information sources, is conducting a comprehensive analysis of agency turnover. The information system that results from this study has become an integral part of a work force and succession planning program at OPM and can be used as a model to expand the concept throughout the government.

    Recommendation: OPM should, at a minimum, develop a workforce planning system to determine needed staffing levels and skills, and basing staffing and budget requests on workforce planning. The system should provide information on what staff are leaving and how or whether they should be replaced, take into account an analysis and forecast of customers' demands for services, and provide an assessment of skills and training needs. Particular attention should be paid to those functional areas where there is a need for increased OPM activity, such as productivity assistance and personnel management evaluation.

    Agency Affected: Office of Personnel Management

 

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