Workforce

IT near top of human capital woes

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Facing tight budgets, human capital officials at federal agencies are struggling to keep up with mission needs using fewer resources.

The Government Accountability Office convened a forum of chief human capital officers, their deputies or designees from 25 of the 27 agencies in the CHCO Council, and asked them about the most pressing workforce challenges they were facing, and to what extent they were getting guidance from the Office of Personnel Management.

The CHCOs highlighted human resource information technology and strategic workforce planning as two areas that are ripe for government-wide collaboration.

The CHCOs said agencies could be missing cost savings opportunities by not coordinating HR IT investments within and across agencies. According to the report from the forum, many agencies are procuring duplicate systems in their agencies rather than using shared services or banding together to negotiate a lower price.

Antiquated HR IT systems can also cause major functional issues within agencies and need urgent upgrades, according to CHCOs. Inability of systems to interface with each other and difficulty making queries are among two of the most troubling issues. In response, a new CHCO working group is being chartered in 2014 with the goal of leveraging previous OPM and CHCO efforts, the report said.

The forum identified strategic workforce planning as another major area for improvement.

In GAO’s 2013 high-risk report, it identified skills gaps in several mission-critical occupations, including human resources specialists, cybersecurity, contract specialists and STEM areas.

“Though agency approaches to workforce planning vary depending on agency needs and mission, the CHCOs said agencies are not consistently accessing or using the strategies and models that some agencies have found useful,” the report said.

At the Transportation Department, for example, department-level human capital staff worked with program managers teaching how to obtain, use and interpret workforce planning data. State Department officials, meanwhile, said they developed and shared workforce data like forecasts on attrition, data on emerging skills gaps and cost estimates for addressing those gaps with recruiting and retention efforts.

CHCOs agreed that a more systematic approach to workforce planning would be helpful, but said the tools provided by OPM were too high level for the agency’s needs.

In response to the recommendations laid out in the report, OPM said it will use its innovation lab -- LAB@OPM -- to expand collaboration with agencies to develop and deliver the tools agencies need. GAO suggests OPM establish clear and specific outcome measures to ensure it meets its goals.

About the Author

Colby Hochmuth is a staff writer covering big data, cloud computing and the federal workforce. Connect with her on Twitter: @ColbyAnn.

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