Finding the right person for the job

As agencies' human resources staff focus on recruiting and retaining qualified workers, they are talking to private-sector officials to analyze their workforce needs.

That is driving many agencies to update their personnel procedures. Industry leaders have been making such changes for several years, and as federal managers tackle their workforce needs, many are calling on the private sector for their expertise.

"The whole pattern these days ...is following the private-sector trends," said Jonathan Breul, a senior fellow at IBM Corp.'s Center for the Business of Government. "There are few people in the federal government who deal with pay issues, for example. Companies that work on this have the expertise."

Officials at one company, Dougherty and Associates Inc. (DAI), are partnering with federal agencies to analyze their workforce challenges and develop training programs, focusing on following a workforce planning strategy, said Sheri Dougherty, the company's chief executive officer. Officials at DAI, a woman-owned small business based in Alexandria, Va., have been working with federal agencies for about seven years, and they have seen a growing demand for contractor support.

"The major change is that it has become a priority," Dougherty said.

Analysis is at the heart of the company's efforts, Dougherty said. Using an assessment tool based on the chief information officer competencies developed by the CIO Council, company officials are examining agencies' businesses, capabilities and necessary skills. Officials then can determine a path to remedy workforce ills, she said.

DAI officials contracted with the General Services Administration in 2003

to conduct a skills gap analysis on the

financial management workforce.

"The assessment process has provided a good deal of information to the human capital effort," said Judith Westbrook, program manager at GSA's Office of the Chief People Officer. "The outcome was not a big surprise, and we were delighted to take that look overall. We are looking closely at providing training, realigning resources and providing some mentoring in the cases with associates entering the workforce, including interns."

One of the challenges for agency officials assessing the workforce is ensuring that decisions are founded on comprehensive research. Many of them decide on training programs based on incomplete information, Dougherty said.

The change in the scope and nature of human resources management has enhanced the marketplace for contractors, experts said. And the market is growing.

DAI provided the expertise and knowledge that GSA officials lacked, Westbrook said. "At the time, we did not have a mechanism in place that could satisfy conducting a skills gap survey, nor did we possess the expertise of what this would take," she said.

DAI officials also have worked with the Treasury Department to direct a study of the department's executives. The benefit of hiring a contractor for the analysis was that it was a short-term project, said Fred Thompson, practice director for e-government at Unisys Corp. and former assistant director for consulting and marketing in Treasury's Office of the CIO. Thompson worked at the agency at the time of the assessment.

"That kind of company is a good solution because they can come in and do that kind of work and be gone," he said.

Michael is a freelance writer based in Chicago.

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Filling in the gaps

Dougherty and Associates Inc. officials partner with agency leaders to help them analyze ways to improve the information technology workforce. Through their combined efforts:

Army officials created an online mentoring program.

Officials in the Justice Department's Office of Justice Programs are educating employees on grants management policies and customer service standards.

Officials in the General Services Administration's Office of the Chief Financial Officer identified employees' skills gaps using online assessments.

Internal Revenue Service officials developed a strategic approach to addressing their IT workers' needs by assessing leadership abilities and identifying training opportunities.

Source: Dougherty and Associates Inc.

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