Management Reform:

Agencies' Initial Efforts to Restructure Personnel Operations

GGD-98-93: Published: Jul 13, 1998. Publicly Released: Jul 13, 1998.

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GAO reviewed the effects of reductions in personnel positions at the Departments of Agriculture (USDA), Health and Human Services (HHS), the Interior (DOI), and Veteran Affairs (VA), focusing on: (1) the activities the agencies have undertaken in restructuring personnel offices and operations; (2) what performance measures are in place to gauge results of the restructuring efforts; and (3) issues agencies may commonly encounter when, in restructuring their personnel operations, they consider outsourcing automated personnel or payroll services to another agency or the private sector.

GAO noted that: (1) although the focus of agencies' restructuring efforts differed across the four departments, their streamlining plans included reducing the number of employees working in personnel operations and automating paper-based personnel processes to improve the responsiveness and quality of personnel-related services; (2) the reduction in the number of personnelists at the four departments ranged from 14 to 41 percent between September 1993 and September 1997; (3) even with reductions of this magnitude, the personnel servicing ratios for three departments did not change substantially; (4) the departments sought to boost the efficiency of their personnel offices by automating their largely paper-based operations; (5) to achieve this increase in efficiency, the departments generally planned to have new equipment and software in place before staff reductions were made; (6) however, that did not occur, and the departments fell behind their original milestones for implementing new personnel and payroll systems while initial personnel staff reductions occurred; (7) according to personnel officials, the four departments had few measures in place to gauge the results of their personnel operations before restructuring; (8) however, officials in all four departments recognized the need for measurement, were developing performance measures to assess future efforts, and, in some cases, were seeking to more fully assess current costs and performance to identify specific targets for improvement; (9) in addition to providing personnel services to their component agencies, the four departments were developing or purchasing automated personnel systems with the intention of selling payroll or other key personnel services to other agencies; (10) agency officials suggested that a framework was needed with which agencies could obtain information on the personnel services offered by other federal agencies, the cost of those services, and their performance characteristics, including service-level standards; (11) agency officials also suggested the need for a standard technical format and a core set of requirements for personnel data that agencies are likely to exchange with each other; and (12) since April 1997, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) has rechartered the mission of the Federal Personnel Automation Council and tasked it to develop a set of core data elements and requirements for personnel information systems.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: OMB's guidance to OPM for its fiscal year 2000 performance plan calls for OPM to give agencies models for measuring their human resources operations. Therefore, OMB expected that OPM's FY 2000 budget submission and performance plan would detail the actions OPM intends to take to provide agencies with model measures. OMB and OPM agreed that this recommended action is important. However, OPM's FY 2000 budget submission and performance plan does not address this recommendation specifically. It does describe OPM's plans to work with the agencies in the year ahead to develop measures covering the broad spectrum of human resources management activities and issues. This work is being conducted by the Office of Merit Systems Oversight and Effectiveness. The primary purpose is not to reduce staff, but to heighten agency accountability for the efficient and effective use of human resources in support of agency mission accomplishment.

    Recommendation: The Director, Office of Management and Budget (OMB), should require agencies to develop performance measures for personnel operations. The measures to be developed should assess key areas, such as the costs of personnel processes, customer satisfaction with personnel services, workforce capacity, and process effectiveness.

    Agency Affected: Executive Office of the President: Office of Management and Budget

  2. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: During FY 1999, OPM's Office of Merit Systems Oversight and Effectiveness completed and published the HRM Accountability System Development Guide, which was the product of an OPM-led interagency task force of human resource management (HRM) goals and measures. This publication includes potential measures of the efficiency and effectiveness of HRM in the federal government, and a framework for grouping and evaluating these measures. But the task force stopped short of identifying common measures against which all agencies should be evaluated, because it came to realize that these measures should always be viewed in their full organizational context and in relationship to each other. OPM found that cost comparisons across agencies are difficult to do accurately and are best used for broad benchmarking purposes rather than evaluation.

    Recommendation: To develop measures that would have widespread application, the Director, OPM, in conjunction with the President's Administrative Management Council, should lead an initiative that helps agencies develop common measures that could be used to make performance and cost comparisons of personnel operations within agencies and across government.

    Agency Affected: Office of Personnel Management


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