Human Capital:

Implementing an Effective Workforce Strategy Would Help EPA to Achieve Its Strategic Goals

GAO-01-812: Published: Jul 31, 2001. Publicly Released: Aug 16, 2001.

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During the last decade, as most federal agencies downsized, the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) workforce grew by about 18 percent. Much of this growth occurred in EPA's 10 regional offices, which carry out most of the agency's efforts to encourage industry compliance with environmental regulations. Currently, EPA's workforce of 17,000 individuals includes scientists, engineers, lawyers, environmental protection specialists, and mission-support staff. Some Members of Congress have questioned whether EPA is giving enough attention to managing this large and diverse workforce. The workforce management practices of EPA's Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance (OECA)--which takes direct action against violators of environmental statutes and oversees the environmental enforcement activities of states--have come under particular scrutiny because its enforcement activities span all of EPA's programs and regions. Although EPA has began several initiatives during the last decade to better organize and manage its workforce, it has not received the resources and senior-level management attention needed to realize them. This report reviews (1) the extent to which EPA's strategy includes the key elements associated with successful human capital strategies, (2) the major human capital challenges EPA faces in the successful implementation of its strategy, and (3) how OECA deploys the enforcement workforce among EPA's 10 regions to ensure that federal environmental requirements are consistently enforced across regions either by OECA or by states with enforcement programs that OECA oversees. GAO found that EPA's November 2000 human capital strategy is a promising first step towards improving the agency's management of its workforce, but it lacks some of the key elements that are commonly found in the human capital strategies of high-performing organizations. EPA's major challenges in human capital management involve assessing the work requirements for its employees, ensuring continuity of leadership within the agency, and hiring and developing skilled staff. OECA does not systematically deploy its workforce to ensure the consistent enforcement of federal regulations throughout all EPA regions and bases deployment decisions on outdated and incomplete information on key regional workload factors.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In 2000, EPA has issued a comprehensive strategy for managing human capital to provide the necessary linkage to the agency's overall strategic goals and objectives. The strategy contained several useful components indicating that the agency is moving in the right direction. For example, the strategy includes information on the agency's (1) human capital vision, values, and strategic goals and (2) strategies and action steps for achieving the strategic goals. Since then, EPA's has revised its strategic plan to include a cross-goal strategy that links the plan to the agency's human capital strategy.

    Recommendation: To ensure that EPA's human capital policies and practices are most effectively directed toward achieving the agency's mission, the Administrator, EPA, should build upon the agency's substantial progress in more effectively managing its workforce by revising the agency's human capital strategy to (1) link the strategy's action steps with the fulfillment of EPA's strategic goals, (2) identify the milestones and needed resources to implement the strategy, and (3) establish results-oriented performance measures to determine progress toward meeting the strategy's objectives.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Under its strategic plan, EPA is working to align its workforce to accomplish strategic goals and objectives to protect human health and the environment through effective integration of agency-wide planning and management processes. As part of this effort, EPA is working to conduct workforce planning and deployment at regional and program levels and deploy employees and assign work based on mission-critical needs.

    Recommendation: As EPA implements its human capital strategy over the next few years, the Administrator, EPA, should better align the strategy with those of high-performing organizations by working toward developing a system for workforce allocation and deployment that is explicitly linked to the agency's strategic and program planning efforts and that is based on systematic efforts of each major program office to accurately identify the size of its workforce, the deployment of staff geographically and organizationally, and the skills needed to support its strategic goals.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In 2005, GAO reported that EPA has implemented selected succession planning and management efforts that collectively are intended to strengthen both current and future organizational capacity. Generally, these efforts receive top leadership support and commitment, link with strategic planning, identify critical gaps in occupations or competencies, offer training and development programs, and enhance diversity.

    Recommendation: As EPA implements its human capital strategy over the next few years, the Administrator, EPA, should better align the strategy with those of high-performing organizations by working toward designing succession plans to maintain a sustained commitment and continuity of leadership within the agency based on (1) a review of current and emerging leadership needs and (2) identified sources of executive talent within and outside the agency.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: EPA has either developed, or is working toward, several key changes to enhance its recruitment and hiring practices, as recommended. It has, for example, created an automated resource for federal government information and career opportunities that allows for automated resume and assessment tools to route resumes, assess candidates, and streamline the federal hiring process, and it provides an up-to date status on job locations. In particular, EPA is addressing its need for top quality scientists through its revised efforts to strength its workforce planning processes.

    Recommendation: As EPA implements its human capital strategy over the next few years, the Administrator, EPA, should better align the strategy with those of high-performing organizations by working toward targeting recruitment and hiring practices to fill the agency's short-and long-term human capital needs and, specifically, to fill gaps identified through EPA's workforce planning system.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: EPA has identified the talent and, specifically, the mission-critical occupations and competencies required to achieve theory goals. EPA has projected gaps by mission-critical occupations, identified technical and cross-occupational competencies, and plans to monitor its progress in closing these gaps. EPA also has core succession training and development for entry level-employees, middle-level management, and senior executives.

    Recommendation: As EPA implements its human capital strategy over the next few years, the Administrator, EPA, should better align the strategy with those of high-performing organizations by working toward implementing training practices that include (1) education, training, and other developmental opportunities to help the agency's employees build the competencies needed to achieve EPA's shared vision and (2) an explicit link between the training curricula and the competencies needed for mission accomplishment.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  6. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: EPA had initiated several efforts to improve the agency's efforts to strategically plan its workforce and other resources. These include a Workforce Deployment Review for civil enforcement activities, identifying existing workforce skills and specific areas of programmatic expertise and concluding that EPA should reexamine its practice of adjusting staff levels based on historical precedent rather than more relevant workplace factors, including the role played by states in enforcing federal environmental laws. In addition, EPA is designing a strategic workplace planning process to help the agency identify and address skills needed agencywide.

    Recommendation: To ensure that OECA deploys its resources most effectively and efficiently to achieve the agency's strategic goals for enforcement, the Administrator, EPA, should establish, within the context of the agency's human capital strategy, a systematic method for deploying resources to address the agency's enforcement workload in the regions. An effective methodology should take into account the workforce-planning information needed to analyze the enforcement workload and the workforce capabilities of its 10 regions. Specifically, this would include information on (1) the level of resources full-time equivalents that are currently being allocated to specific enforcement activities, (2) the factors that determine the enforcement workload in each region, including, among others, the size of the regulated universe and the extent to which states conduct enforcement/compliance activities that would otherwise be EPA's responsibility, (3) the specific skills that are needed to address each region's enforcement workload and the number of employees in each region who currently possess such skills. To develop such a methodology, OECA needs to establish mechanisms for obtaining more complete and reliable data on these factors. Furthermore, this methodology would be most effective if it were linked to agencywide recruiting, hiring, and training policies and practices in order to fill identified gaps in the skills needed to perform effective enforcement actions.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  7. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The thrust of this recommendation was that EPA should complete an analysis of the type needed to justify increases or decreases in its existing staff. Toward this end, the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance (OECA) has developed a Human Resources Strategy that builds upon the EPA Strategy for Human Capital and identifies specific short- and long-term human resources needed. In addition, EPA has established a more strategic collaborative work planning process with headquarters and regions. Furthermore, EPA's program offices are able to redeploy staff to meet programmatic needs, and OECA is participating in a workgroup to improve the office's methods for making decisions on distributing staffing resources.

    Recommendation: In redirecting enforcement resources to states and tribes, the Administrator, EPA, before reducing the enforcement staff by 270 positions, should collect and review more complete and reliable workforce-planning information than is currently available on the enforcement workload and workforce capabilities of EPA's 10 regional offices.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency


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