Reflections on the Federal Workforce

Posted on May 05, 2015
This week is Public Service Recognition Week, which honors federal workers’ competence and dedication, and reminds us of the important work federal employees perform every day. In honor of this week, today’s WatchBlog reflects on federal workforce management progress and challenges. Federal Human Capital Progress Since last year, we have reported on a couple of trends that show positive progress.
  • Many federal agencies have either sustained or increased employee engagement. Increased levels of engagement—generally defined as the sense of purpose and commitment employees feel towards their employer and its mission—can lead to better organizational performance. In an April testimony before Congress, we reported that the recent government-wide decline in engagement masks the fact that the majority of federal agencies either sustained or increased employee engagement levels during the same period.
  • Federal human capital management is improving. In the 2015 update to our High Risk List, we noted that over the last few years, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and individual agencies have taken important steps to better position the government to close current and emerging critical skills gaps in the federal workforce.
Moreover, OPM and agencies have partially met 4 of 5 criteria for removal from the High Risk List by demonstrating a leadership commitment to addressing pressing issues, developing capacity and action plans outlining appropriate strategies, and taking the initial steps to monitor their progress. Federal Workforce Management Challenges In addition to recognizing the positive trends, we have made multiple recommendations to OPM and federal agencies to help them improve how they manage the federal workforce. Here are some of the opportunities for improvement that we found:
  • Dealing with poor performers. The way the government handles poor performers is a major concern for citizens and better-performing colleagues. We recommended that OPM assess the adequacy of agencies’ leadership training, since better training for supervisors could help them better manage staff performance.
  • Tracking work hours. We found that OPM lacks reliable estimates of the amount of time federal employees spend performing certain union duties, and also has inaccurate information on the amount of paid administrative leave federal employees take. To improve federal agencies’ ability to oversee and manage employees’ time, we recommended that OPM work with agencies to collect more accurate data.
  • Addressing shared challenges and making workforce talent more flexible across the government. Human capital solutions could help agencies accomplish their goals in lean fiscal times. In this era of highly constrained budgets, we recommended government-wide strategies to address widespread challenges and provide the agility necessary to put human capital resources where they can be most effective.
Check out our strategic human capital management key issues page for more information on the progress and challenges of the federal workforce, and browse our open recommendations database for the status of our recommendations to OPM.