Better Use Can Be Made of Federal Professional Staff

FPCD-81-14: Published: Dec 31, 1980. Publicly Released: Dec 31, 1980.

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A survey was conducted of staffing problems which effect the use of skilled professionals in the federal government. The increasing complexity of the work of the government makes it imperative that government makes the best use of the special talents of its professional staff. Private industry has shown the benefits of employing professionals in tasks which require their highest skill use and the opportunities that are thus afforded support personnel through position upgrading and job restructuring. The objective of the GAO study was to determine how much time professional employees were spending on tasks which should be delegated, and to assess the impact of the time spent doing work that could be done by support staff.

The GAO survey showed that about 57 percent of the professionals interviewed spent from 10 to 25 percent of their time on tasks which should be delegated. The time spent on delegable tasks was attributed to a nonavailability of paraprofessionals and other support staff. A wide variety of professionals spent time on work which did not require their skills or abilities. Responses indicated that job satisfaction was significantly lower among professionals who spent more time on work that should be delegated, were given fewer opportunities to continue their professional development, did not do the kind of work they liked to do, and had fewer opportunities to use their skills and abilities. Other adverse effects included work backlogs, lower quality work, and hindrances to agency mission accomplishment. Employing a balanced mix of professionals and support staff offers continued opportunities for improvements in productivity and program cost reduction. The basic reasons for the imbalance between the number of professionals and the number of support staff employed were poor agency workforce planning and overly restrictive and arbitrary personnel constraints. Related studies confirmed that employment constraints, such as personnel ceilings, have discouraged agency managers from developing better workforce planning capability. More study must be done on workforce planning, employment constraints, and agency organization.

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