Best Practices and Leading Practices in Human Capital Management
Federal agencies are facing a range of ongoing and newly emerging risks and challenges driven by fiscal constraints, changing demographics, and the evolving role of the public sector. Agencies are also in the midst of a retirement wave. To help agencies overcome these challenges, GAO has identified leading practices in five key areas of human capital management: (1) Strategic Workforce Planning, (2) Workforce Training, (3) Performance Management, (4) Recruitment and Hiring, and (5) Diversity.
Strategic Workforce Planning
In order for federal agencies to meet 21st century challenges, the federal government must (1) align agencies human capital programs with their current and emerging mission and programmatic goals and (2) develop long-term strategies for acquiring, developing, and retaining staff to achieve programmatic goals. See GAO-04-39
- Involve human resources professionals and key stakeholders in strategic and workforce planning efforts, as well as in any agency-wide restructuring efforts.
- Ensure HR staff have the competencies and resources to proactively partner and consult with line managers.
- Identify external resources, such as contractors, or consult with others, such as Congressional decision-makers, when developing human capital strategies.
- Have a system in place to continually assess and improve human capital planning and investment and assess the system's impact on mission accomplishment, and hold managers accountable for implementing human capital plans and overall human capital management.
- Determine the critical skills and competencies its workforce needs to achieve current and future agency goals and missions and identify gaps, including those that training and development strategies can help address.
- Establish and maintain an inventory of employee skills and competencies; have a process to address skills/competency gaps; and have succession plans for leadership and other critical positions.
- Approach workforce planning strategically, basing decisions on mission needs, customer expectations, workload, and skills and competencies of the workforce. Human capital strategies should avoid excess organizational layers and redundant operations, and maintain a balance between supervisory and non-supervisory positions.
- Have linkages between the strategic workforce plan and the agency's strategic plan.
Training involves developing a strategic approach that establishes training priorities and leverages investment in training to achieve agency results; identifying specific training initiatives that improve individual and agency performance; ensuring the effective and efficient delivery of training opportunities in an environment that supports learning and change; and demonstrating how training efforts contribute to improved performance and results. See GAO-04-546G
- Incorporate the results of its workforce planning efforts into its planning and front-end analysis of training and development strategies.
- Conduct formal analysis to choose between centralized and decentralized management of training programs; between designing training programs internally and using an external source; and among different mixes of training delivery mechanisms (e.g. classroom, computer-based, on the job, etc.).
- Have leaders who communicate the importance of training and encourage employees to participate in training activities.
- Have a training and development unit that is held accountable, along with the line executives, for the enhanced performance of the workforce.
- Use measures of quantitative and qualitative performance data as part of a systematic process to assess the results achieved through training and development efforts. Measures should clearly link to organizational goals.
- Track cost, benefit, delivery, and performance data for training programs consistently across the organization.
Performance Management systems are used to plan work and set individual performance expectations, monitor performance throughout the year through ongoing feedback, develop individuals' capacities to perform, and rate and reward individual performance. In addition, performance management systems can help the organization manage on a day-to-day basis by helping achieve results and accelerate change in the organization. See GAO-03-488
- Align individual performance expectations that identify specific levels of performance or targets with organizational and crosscutting goals.
- Provide and routinely use objective performance information to track progress toward achieving organizational priorities and to compare individuals' performance against organizational goals and other individuals.
- Require and track follow-up actions on performance gaps (e.g. to address organizational priorities and hold individuals responsible for making progress on their priorities).
- Define competencies that individuals need to effectively contribute to organizational results.
- Link pay increases, awards, and bonuses to organizational unit and individual performance, using a performance management system that makes meaningful distinctions in individual performance (e.g. through ratings and/or bonuses).
- Involve employees and other stakeholders in the development, modification, and periodic evaluation of the performance management system.
- Maintain continuity during transitions through a performance management system that reinforces individual leaders' accountability for organizational goals.
- Have safeguards that ensure the transparency or fairness (e.g. independent reasonableness reviews, internal grievance processes) of the performance management system.
Recruitment and Hiring
Recruitment and Hiring involves developing and implementing strategies to advertise positions and attract top candidates; assessing applicants' relative competencies or knowledge, skills, and abilities against job related criteria to identify the most qualified candidates; using a variety of candidate assessment tools, such as interviews, to make a selection; and coordinating the process of bringing a new hire on board. For example, candidate assessment tools include written exams, performance tests, and interviews. Agencies should regularly evaluate this process using performance measurements and feedback instruments and make the necessary adjustments to ensure the organization hires the right people, at the right place, at the right time. See GAO-08-762T
- Develop customized strategies to recruit highly specialized and hard-to-fill positions.
- Use vacancy announcements and Web postings that are clear, user friendly, and comprehensive.
- Have an automated hiring process which uses computerized systems to prescreen, rate, and rank applicants.
- Conduct regular surveys to gauge applicant and hiring manager satisfaction levels with the hiring process and its results.
Diversity Management, in this context, is a process intended to create and maintain a positive work environment where the similarities and differences of individuals are valued, so that all can reach their potential and maximize their contributions to an organization's strategic goals and objectives. A high-performance organization relies on a dynamic workforce with the requisite talents, multidisciplinary knowledge, and up-to-date skills to ensure that it is equipped to accomplish its mission and achieve its goals. Such organizations typically (1) foster a work environment in which people are enabled and motivated to contribute to mission accomplishment and (2) provide both accountability and fairness for all employees. To accomplish these objectives, high performance organizations are inclusive, drawing on the strengths of employees at all levels and of all backgrounds an approach consistent with diversity management. See GAO-05-90
- Develop a diversity strategy and plan in alignment with the organization's strategic plan.
- Use quantitative and qualitative measures to assess the impact of various aspects of an overall diversity program.
- Hold top managers accountable for diversity by linking their performance assessment and compensation to the progress of diversity initiatives.
- Have an ongoing succession planning process for identifying and developing a diverse pool of talent for an organization's potential future leaders.
- Have a recruitment process for attracting a supply of qualified, diverse applicants for employment.
- Involve employees in supporting diversity throughout the organization (e.g. through mentoring programs, advisory groups).
- Provide training in areas such as teambuilding, communications styles, decision making, and conflict resolution to management and staff to educate them and inform them about the benefits and challenges of diversity.
GAO-08-762T: Published: May 8, 2008. Publicly Released: May 8, 2008.
To address the challenges that the nation faces, it will be important for federal agencies to change their cultures and create the institutional capacity to become high-performing organizations. This includes recruiting and retaining a federal workforce able to create, sustain, and thrive in organizations that are flatter, results-oriented, and externally focused. In 2001, GAO identified strategic...
GAO-05-90: Published: Jan 14, 2005. Publicly Released: Feb 4, 2005.
A high-performance organization relies on a dynamic workforce with the requisite talents, multidisciplinary knowledge, and up-to-date skills to ensure that it is equipped to accomplish its mission and achieve its goals. Such organizations typically (1) foster a work environment in which people are enabled and motivated to contribute to mission accomplishment and (2) provide both accountability and...
GAO-04-546G: Published: Mar 1, 2004. Publicly Released: Mar 1, 2004.
This publication supersedes GAO-03-893G, Human Capital: A Guide for Assessing Strategic Training and Development Efforts in the Federal Government (Exposure Draft), July 2003. As part of our ongoing review of agencies' efforts to address their human capital challenges, we saw the need for a framework to serve as a flexible and useful guide in assessing how agencies plan, design, implement, and eva...
GAO-04-39: Published: Dec 11, 2003. Publicly Released: Dec 11, 2003.
The federal government is in a period of profound transition and faces an array of challenges and opportunities to enhance performance, ensure accountability, and position the nation for the future. Effective results-oriented management of the government's most valued resource--its people--is at the heart of this transition. This report is part of a large body of GAO work examining issues in strat...
GAO-03-488: Published: Mar 14, 2003. Publicly Released: Apr 4, 2003.
The federal government is in a period of profound transition and faces an array of challenges and opportunities to enhance performance, ensure accountability, and position the nation for the future. High-performing organizations have found that to successfully transform themselves, they must often fundamentally change their cultures so that they are more results-oriented, customer-focused, and col...
GAO-18-124: Published: Oct 19, 2017. Publicly Released: Oct 19, 2017.
Does the Veterans Health Administration have enough doctors to keep up with veterans' growing health care needs? It can't be sure. VHA knows the number of doctors it employs (over 11,000), but it doesn’t know how many contract physicians and physician trainees (e.g., medical residents) are used to meet its staffing needs. And although VHA uses multiple strategies to support the hiring and reten...
GAO-18-164: Published: Oct 5, 2017. Publicly Released: Nov 6, 2017.
From fiscal years 2007 through 2015, few faith-based grantees sought an exemption based on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA) from nondiscrimination laws related to religious-based hiring. Specifically, GAO found that the Department of Justice (DOJ), Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and Department of Labor (DOL) awarded funding to at least 2,586 grantees through at...
GAO-17-700: Published: Sep 19, 2017. Publicly Released: Sep 19, 2017.
Home sale assistance allows federal agencies to facilitate the sale of employees' homes if their relocation is in the government's interest. Veterans Affairs suspended a type of home sale assistance in 2015 after two employees abused it for personal gain. In 2017, VA reinstated this assistance with strengthened safeguards. For example, VA's policies now state that a relocating employee's particip...
GAO-17-364: Published: May 24, 2017. Publicly Released: May 24, 2017.
The National Weather Service issues weather forecasts and warnings to help protect life and property, especially as severe weather unfolds. Most of its field offices across the nation operate 24 hours, every day. However, we found that the rates of staff vacancies in these offices have more than doubled since 2010, and these vacancies have often lasted months—forcing managers and staff to work...
GAO-17-627T: Published: May 18, 2017. Publicly Released: May 18, 2017.
As shown below, many federal employees are eligible to retire. As they do, agencies need to hire people with the right skills—not just replace those who leave. To recruit and retain a skilled workforce, the federal pay system may need to be reexamined. In this testimony, we discussed strategies high-performing organizations use to design pay systems, such as ensuring pay decisions are transpare...
GAO-17-233: Published: Apr 27, 2017. Publicly Released: Apr 27, 2017.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has reduced its staff since 2011after expected growth in the nuclear industry did not occur. However, we found that the agency hasn't used certain key practices that could improve how effectively it manages its workforce. Without using these practices, the NRC may not know what the appropriate size and composition of its workforce should be, now or in the future. ...
GAO-17-475T: Published: Mar 22, 2017. Publicly Released: Mar 22, 2017.
The Veterans Health Administration is facing challenges recruiting and retaining clinical staff, such as physicians and registered nurses. We've found that VHA has high attrition among HR staff and weak internal control processes, which are contributing to its staffing issues. These challenges are making it more difficult for VHA to meet the health care needs of our nation's veterans. We recommen...
GAO-17-53: Published: Jan 31, 2017. Publicly Released: Jan 31, 2017.
The Air Force and the Army have not fully applied four of the five key principles for effective strategic human capital planning for managing pilots of unmanned aerial systems (UAS) that are important for resolving the Air Force's pilot shortages and the Army's training shortfalls (see table below). Consistent with the first principle, the Air Force involved top senior leaders, UAS pilots, and sta...
GAO-17-30: Published: Dec 23, 2016. Publicly Released: Jan 23, 2017.
The Veterans Health Administration is facing key human capital challenges that hamper its ability to effectively serve veterans—including skills gaps within medical centers’ HR offices and inadequate training for HR staff. Additionally, central HR offices have limited authority to oversee and hold medical centers accountable for delivering essential HR services, such as recruiting and training...
GAO-16-742: Published: Sep 29, 2016. Publicly Released: Oct 31, 2016.
The explosion on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig in 2010 stressed the importance of supervising oil and gas production. To that end, the Department of the Interior has been trying to hire, retain, and train qualified staff to oversee these activities. For example, it has increased salaries for key staff and is helping to pay off more employee student loans. However, we found that Interior doesn't kn...