Human Capital:

Retirements and Anticipated New Reactor Applications Will Challenge NRC's Workforce

GAO-07-105: Published: Jan 17, 2007. Publicly Released: Jan 17, 2007.

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The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is responsible for licensing and inspecting the nation's nuclear power plants to ensure their safety and security. By 2010, about one third of NRC's workforce with mission-critical skills will be eligible to retire. At the same time, NRC's workforce needs to expand because NRC expects to receive at least 20 applications for 29 new nuclear power reactors beginning in October 2007. GAO assessed NRC's ability to meet its workforce needs by examining the extent to which NRC (1) has aligned its human capital planning framework with its strategic mission and programmatic goals; (2) is effectively recruiting, developing, and retaining critically skilled personnel; and (3) is addressing future uncertainties that could affect its overall workforce capacity. GAO examined strategic workforce planning and implementation documents, interviewed cognizant managers on NRC's human capital framework and activities, and surveyed these managers about NRC's human capital flexibilities and measures.

NRC's human capital planning framework is generally aligned with its strategic goals and coherently identifies the activities needed to achieve the following strategic human capital outcomes: (1) continuous improvement in leadership and management effectiveness in delivering the mission and (2) a diverse, skilled workforce and an infrastructure that fully supports the agency's mission and goals. To integrate its human capital planning with implementation activities, NRC has recently completed or drafted three key planning documents and created a Human Capital Council in July 2006. However, it is too soon to tell whether implementation of these initiatives will stimulate, for example, the rate of knowledge transfer necessary for new staff to gain the critical skills they need to perform their regulatory responsibilities. NRC has been effective in recruiting, developing, and retaining a critically skilled workforce to date, yet it is unclear whether this trend will continue in the next few years. For example, through improving such processes as how it implemented hiring for 60 different vacancy postings, NRC brought 371 employees on board during fiscal year 2006--a substantially higher number than in previous years. Similarly, NRC filled several critical skills gaps in 2006, yet it also identified many more new gaps in 2007 that require significant new hiring or training to fill. NRC has used various targets and measures to monitor its human capital progress, but could improve their application by gathering, analyzing, and sharing information about their usefulness among NRC's offices and revising some of them. Similarly, NRC may miss opportunities to most effectively apply human capital funding to recruit, develop, and retain a critically skilled workforce because NRC evaluates only some of its human capital flexibilities, such as recruitment incentives, in terms of the frequency and cost of their use. NRC has acted to address two key uncertainties that affect its workforce needs: whether it can (1) maintain its workforce in the face of future competition for critically skilled workers and (2) accurately gauge its future workload. To better compete for workers, NRC tracks salaries in key disciplines to discern trends and is enhancing its university recruiting efforts. To handle the expected growth in reactor license applications, NRC has developed staffing and resource estimates, is reorganizing its affected workforce, and completed many elements of its review process for new reactors. Because of its workforce changes and anticipated increased workload, NRC needs flexibility, staff commitment, and sustained human capital management to adapt to any workforce climate shifts. Similarly, workload imbalances among employees and across offices could undermine employee satisfaction, making the recruiting and retention of a diverse, skilled workforce more difficult as expected industry competition intensifies. A failure to achieve these human capital goals could potentially hinder NRC's ability to inspect existing reactors and license new ones, which might ultimately limit the availability of electricity in the U.S. market.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: During the past year, NRC has completed its Human Capital Implementation Plan, which focused on specific actions taken to align human capital strategies with strategic direction and addressed outstanding human capital challenges. In addition, the Human Capital Council has provided strategic direction and recommendations on several key issues, including hiring and retention, training and development, human capital funding, and performance management.

    Recommendation: To improve NRC's ability to meet its current and future needs for a critically skilled workforce, the NRC should promote the coordination and integration of human capital planning and implementation activities by completing the agencywide human capital implementation plan; ensuring that the Human Capital Council provides strategic direction, advice, and recommendations on addressing human capital issues; and providing the appropriate level of resources to implement knowledge management program and strategic training and development plan.

    Agency Affected: Nuclear Regulatory Commission

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: During the past year, NRC's Office of Human Resources, in coordination with the senior leadership team and a panel of senior managers, has given increased attention to reviewing NRC's use of flexibilities and improving guidance on the use of certain authorities. NRC also periodically reviews its need for and the design of specific flexibilities, such as group recruitment and relocation/retention incentives.

    Recommendation: To improve NRC's ability to meet its current and future needs for a critically skilled workforce, the NRC should systematically assess the effectiveness of NRC's use of tools, authorities, and flexibilities for recruiting, developing, and retaining its workforce and adjust their use and targeting, as necessary, to meet workforce needs.

    Agency Affected: Nuclear Regulatory Commission

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: During the past year, NRC has integrated certain of its Operating Plan's measures with the Senior Performance Officials assessment process. Specifically, some key human capital measures in the Operating Plan have also been incorporated into SES performance plans. NRC is sharing these measures throughout the agency in real time through Sharepoint, a Web-based tool. NRC also is implementing several recommendations for improving the efficiency of tools and flexibilities that were made by a Lean Six Sigma review of its staffing process.

    Recommendation: To improve NRC's ability to meet its current and future needs for a critically skilled workforce, the NRC should periodically and comprehensively evaluate and share information among NRC's offices on the usefulness of human capital measures, intended outputs, and targets to enhance NRC's ability to monitor trends, reliably measure progress, and inform program office managers in achieving critical human capital tasks.

    Agency Affected: Nuclear Regulatory Commission

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Office of Personnel Management administered NRC's 2007 Annual Employee Survey and received responses from 2,531 of NRC's 3,575 employees. The survey collected information from employees on their satisfaction with the NRC Human Capital Program and assessed new initiatives and offices' use of flexibilities to maintain a quality work environment.

    Recommendation: To improve NRC's ability to meet its current and future needs for a critically skilled workforce, the NRC should survey employees during fiscal year 2007 on their satisfaction with NRC's human capital program, including new initiatives and offices' use of flexibilities to maintain a quality work environment.

    Agency Affected: Nuclear Regulatory Commission


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