Posthearing Questions Related to Proposed Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Human Capital Regulations

GAO-04-570R: Published: Mar 22, 2004. Publicly Released: Mar 22, 2004.

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GAO testified before Congress and answered posthearing questions regarding "The Key to Homeland Security: The New Human Resources System."

We have proposed an initial list of safeguards for the personnel system at the Department of Defense based on our extensive body of work looking at the performance management practices used by leading public sector organizations both in the United States and in other countries, as well as our own experiences at GAO in implementing a modern performance management system. These safeguards include: (1) assuring that the agency's performance management systems link to the agency's strategic plan, related goals, and desired outcomes, and result in meaningful distinctions in individual employee performance; (2) involving employees, their representatives, and other stakeholders in the design of the system, including having employees directly involved in validating any related competencies, as appropriate; (3) assuring that certain predecisional internal safeguards exist to help achieve the consistency, equity, nondiscrimination, and nonpoliticization of the performance management process; and (4) assuring reasonable transparency and appropriate accountability mechanisms in connection with the results of the performance management process. Leading organizations involve employees and unions in major changes such as redesigning work processes, changing work rules, or developing new job descriptions. Such involvement can avoid misunderstandings, speed implementation, and more expeditiously resolve problems that occur. We noted that DHS employees suggested having informal mechanisms in place to resolve issues before escalating them to the formal process. However we do not have a specific percentage to recommend for this provision. We have found that a key practice for successful transformations is to set implementation goals and establish a timeline to build momentum and show progress from day one. A transformation, such as the one being undertaken by DHS, is a substantial commitment that could take years before it is completed, and therefore must be carefully and closely managed. As a result, it is essential to establish and track implementation goals and establish a timeline to pinpoint performance shortfalls and gaps so that midcourse corrections can be made. We raised independence concerns about a separate panel to be created to hear appeals for mandatory removal offenses. Members of that panel are appointed by the DHS Secretary for three-year terms and may be removed by the Secretary "only for inefficiency, neglect of duty, or malfeasance." These appointment and removal procedures are identical to the appointment and removal provisions for the members of the proposed DHS Labor Relations Board.

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