Strategic Human Capital Management:

NRC Could Better Manage the Size and Composition of Its Workforce by Further Incorporating Leading Practices

GAO-17-233: Published: Apr 27, 2017. Publicly Released: Apr 27, 2017.

Additional Materials:

Contact:

Frank Rusco
(202) 512-3841
ruscof@gao.gov

 

Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800
youngc1@gao.gov

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has reduced its staff since 2011 after 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.

We recommended that the NRC set agency-wide workforce size and composition goals, establish a systematic approach to tracking employees' skills, and consistently train supervisors on strategic human capital management.

Total Allocated Nuclear Regulatory Commission Full-Time Equivalent Employees, Fiscal Years 2005 through 2017

Line graph of total number of NRC employees from fiscal year 2005 to 2017

Line graph of total number of NRC employees from fiscal year 2005 to 2017

Additional Materials:

Contact:

Frank Rusco
(202) 512-3841
ruscof@gao.gov

 

Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800
youngc1@gao.gov

What GAO Found

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has made efforts to enhance its strategic human capital management to ensure the agency has the right number and composition of staff; however, these efforts do not incorporate some leading practices. Leading practices—identified by GAO and others—indicate that using forward-looking strategies, setting goals, using data-driven planning and accountability systems, and ensuring that employees have relevant knowledge to carry out their responsibilities are essential for strategic human capital management. NRC has taken steps through Project Aim—an effort to help the agency respond more strategically to changes in the nuclear industry—and other efforts to manage its human capital, such as developing a strategic workforce plan, conducting workload forecasting, and cross-training employees.

However, GAO identified three areas where NRC's efforts do not fully incorporate leading practices. First, NRC has not established agencywide goals for its workforce size or composition—that is, goals for the number of people with specific skillsets and levels of expertise—beyond a 2-year budget cycle. Second, NRC does not have comprehensive employee skills information because it currently does not have a systematic approach or system to track this information. Third, in some cases, NRC has not consistently trained managers or supervisors on strategic human capital management or assessing employees' skillsets. Without incorporating these practices, NRC cannot determine the most appropriate size and composition of the agency's workforce, and it risks being unable to respond to changes in the nuclear industry. NRC has reduced its staff by 587 FTEs since its peak in 2011 (see figure), but if not carefully managed, imprecise reductions could lead NRC to miss efficiencies in matching its workforce with expected demand for services.

Total Allocated Nuclear Regulatory Commission Full-Time Equivalent Employees, Fiscal Years 2005 through 2017
a  data-cke-saved-name=

Why GAO Did This Study

After the passage of the Energy Policy Act of 2005, which included tax incentives for nuclear energy, NRC significantly expanded its workforce to meet the demands of an anticipated increase in workload that ultimately did not occur. More recently, a forecast for reduced growth in the nuclear industry prompted NRC to develop plans for changing its structure and workforce to better respond to changes in the nuclear industry. Strategic human capital planning is one of several actions the agency is taking.

The explanatory statement accompanying the Consolidated Appropriations Act for fiscal year 2016 included a provision for GAO to report on NRC's workforce management. GAO examined NRC's strategic human capital management efforts and the extent to which these efforts incorporate leading practices.

GAO reviewed NRC's strategic workforce plan and other related documents and interviewed knowledgeable NRC officials.

What GAO Recommends

GAO recommends that NRC (1) set agencywide goals for workforce size and skills composition to meet workload demands that extend beyond the 2-year budget cycle, (2) establish a systematic approach for tracking employee skills, and (3) consistently train managers and supervisors in strategic human capital management and assessing employee skillsets. NRC generally agreed with these recommendations.

For more information, contact Frank Rusco at (202) 512-3841 or ruscof@gao.gov.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Open

    Priority recommendation

    Comments: NRC generally agreed with this recommendation. In July 2017, NRC started a three-office pilot of an Enhanced Strategic Workforce Planning process to better integrate workload projection, skills identification, and human capital management, among other areas. NRC envisions this process as an annual cycle that will incorporate insights from 1-year and 5-year workload forecasts. The pilot is expected to be completed in summer 2018. At the conclusion of the pilot, NRC plans to identify the strengths, challenges, estimated resources, and recommended improvements to the process for agency-wide implementation. NRC officials expect that the strategic workforce planning information obtained during the Enhanced Strategic Workforce Planning process will help NRC develop long-range workforce size forecasts, but NRC has not yet set agencywide goals. We will continue to monitor NRC's implementation of this recommendation and will review information on planned changes, if any, to NRC's efforts to set agencywide goals for overall workforce size and skills composition.

    Recommendation: To improve NRC's ability to strategically manage the size and composition of its workforce and respond to changes in the nuclear industry, the Chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission should set agencywide goals, which could be ranges, for overall workforce size and skills composition that extend beyond the 2-year budget cycle.

    Agency Affected: Nuclear Regulatory Commission

  2. Status: Open

    Comments: NRC generally agreed with the recommendation. In July 2017, NRC started a three-office pilot of an Enhanced Strategic Workforce Planning process to address skills identification and human capital management, among other areas. The pilot is expected to be complete in summer 2018. According to NRC, the implementation team investigated developing a new skills inventory database to support the pilot. However, NRC determined that the timeline for the pilot and resources required were not compatible with the time and resources available, and that development of a new system would be duplicative of NRC's competency modeling system pilot, which uses software to house competency models and track skills. NRC officials said that the tool provides the capability to search and display data related to employee competency-assessment results, skill gaps, and training demand. The agency anticipates that the use of the competency modeling system and the Enhanced Strategic Workforce Planning process will enable the NRC to track competencies throughout the agency, and address emerging needs and workload fluctuations. We will review NRC's actions, once completed, to determine whether they meet the intent of this recommendation.

    Recommendation: To improve NRC's ability to strategically manage the size and composition of its workforce and respond to changes in the nuclear industry, the Chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission should establish a systematic, comprehensive approach for tracking employee skills information, either through the system developed through the competency modeling pilot program or some other system.

    Agency Affected: Nuclear Regulatory Commission

  3. Status: Open

    Comments: NRC generally agreed with the recommendation. In its June 2017 letter on plans for implementing the recommendation, NRC stated that it developed a Supervisor Development Program SharePoint site to centrally house information pertinent to management activities and required training. In addition, in July 2017, NRC started a three-office pilot of an Enhanced Strategic Workforce Planning process. According to NRC, managers participating in the pilot received instructor-led and online training on NRC's Enhanced Strategic Workforce Planning process in 2017 and 2018, which included training on human capital concepts, performing an inventory of core positions, and conducting a workforce supply analysis. According to NRC officials, upon completion of the pilot in summer 2018 and the following lesson-learned assessment, the Office of the Chief Human Capital Officer will incorporate the Enhanced Strategic Workforce Planning process and strategic human capital management concepts into existing management training. We will review NRC's actions, once completed, to determine whether they meet the intent of this recommendation.

    Recommendation: To improve NRC's ability to strategically manage the size and composition of its workforce and respond to changes in the nuclear industry, the Chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission should consistently train managers and supervisors in strategic human capital management and assessing employee skillsets.

    Agency Affected: Nuclear Regulatory Commission

 

Explore the full database of GAO's Open Recommendations »

Nov 15, 2018

Sep 10, 2018

May 30, 2018

Dec 14, 2017

May 24, 2017

May 18, 2017

Dec 29, 2016

Sep 1, 2016

Aug 19, 2016

Looking for more? Browse all our products here