Skip to main content

Federal Workforce: OPM Advances Efforts to Close Government-wide Skills Gaps but Needs a Plan to Improve Its Own Capacity

GAO-23-105528 Published: Feb 27, 2023. Publicly Released: Feb 27, 2023.
Jump To:

Fast Facts

The federal government needs a highly skilled and specialized workforce to carry out many of its missions, including cybersecurity or acquisitions. Federal agencies look to the Office of Personnel Management for guidance on closing gaps in the skills and experience of their workforces.

But OPM has similar gaps of its own that could prevent it from helping other agencies. OPM has taken steps to address these gaps, including training and hiring staff. But it has not created an action plan to manage this effort.

We recommended that OPM create an action plan and document the risks that such gaps pose to OPM's support of other agencies.

Skip to Highlights


What GAO Found

During a May 2022 GAO-hosted forum, federal human capital officers called 1) recruiting and hiring, and 2) workforce planning their agencies' top challenges for closing skills gaps. In addition, forum participants said that the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) could help them close skills gaps by providing additional workplace flexibilities and streamlining regulations and guidance to reduce administrative burden.

Since 2011, OPM has led efforts to close government-wide skills gaps. These efforts include working on the President's Management Agenda, improving collaboration with the Chief Human Capital Officers Council, and identifying strategies for closing the gaps in its strategic plan. However, in 2022, an independent workforce assessment found that OPM had its own skills gaps in key capabilities (see figure). According to the assessment and GAO's analysis, this could compromise OPM's ability to implement its strategic objectives related to closing government-wide skills gaps.

Figure 1: Examples of Skills Gaps Identified in the Assessment of OPM's Workforce

OPM officials told GAO they generally agreed with the assessment's findings and were addressing its own skills gaps. However, OPM has yet to develop an action plan that includes all elements directed by OPM guidance to manage this effort. GAO also found OPM did not list its skills gaps as a risk to implementing its strategic objectives, an essential element of enterprise risk management. Doing so would better position OPM to have the near- and long-term capacity to help other agencies close skills gaps across the federal government.

Why GAO Did This Study

Strategic human capital management, specifically the federal government's efforts to address government-wide and agency specific skills gaps, has been on GAO's High-Risk List since 2001. These gaps impede the government from achieving desired results. A skills gap may consist of an insufficient number of individuals, individuals without the appropriate skills, abilities, or behaviors to perform the work successfully; or both. OPM has identified skills gaps in government-wide occupations in fields such as human resources, cybersecurity, and acquisition.

OPM plays an important role in closing skills gaps and ensuring agencies have the necessary tools and resources. GAO was asked to review agencies' skills gaps-related challenges and OPM's efforts to close skills gaps. This report examines (1) federal human capital officers' perspectives on workforce challenges they face, and (2) OPM's efforts to close skills gaps government-wide and within its workforce since 2020.

GAO hosted a forum to obtain federal human capital officers' perspectives. GAO also analyzed relevant documents and interviewed OPM officials responsible for implementing strategic and human capital plans and managing risks.


GAO recommends that OPM (1) establish an action plan to address its skills gaps, and (2) document and take other actions to address the risks its skills gaps pose to meeting its strategic objectives. OPM concurred with both recommendations.

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Office of Personnel Management
Priority Rec.
The Director of OPM should establish an action plan to address OPM's skills gaps identified in the workforce assessment, either as an update to its HCOP or a separate effort. (Recommendation 1)
OPM agreed with the recommendation. In March 2024, OPM reported it had taken several actions to address its skills gaps, including targeting early career talent through an internship program and providing employees with on-demand training through an e-learning content library. To fully implement this recommendation, OPM needs to develop an action plan that includes key information, such as a list of its mission-critical occupations, which occupations have skills gaps, and how it will measure progress toward closing skills gaps within its own workforce. Doing so will help OPM improve its capacity to provide human capital services and guidance to agencies.
Office of Personnel Management The Director of OPM should document, select risk responses for, and monitor progress addressing the risks OPM's skills gaps pose to achieving its strategic objectives, either as part of the process for monitoring strategic plan implementation or through other risk management processes. (Recommendation 2)
OPM agreed with the recommendation. As of May 2023, we continue to monitor OPM's progress.

Full Report

Office of Public Affairs


Employee retentionFederal agenciesFederal hiringFederal workforceHigh-risk issuesHuman capital managementPersonnel managementStrategic planWorkforce assessmentWorkforce planning