Management Watch


Political appointees: Don't plan to stay

Are you a presidential appointee who would like to make your position permanent? If so, you face an uphill climb.

As FCW recently reported, The Office of Personnel Management seeks to discourage the practice, informally called “burrowing in,” and Director John Berry issued a memo recently to remind agency leaders. While it's not impossible to convert an appointee to a civil service position, it's quite difficult.

Essentially, if your agency is amenable to changing your status, it has to show a few things to OPM to prove it didn't create the new job just for you. Among the requirements:

  • Your current job description and the description of the position you want to go into.
  • Evidence of a fair and open competition for the position.
  • A description of the recruiting sources and advertising methods used to seek candidates.
  • The applications of all who applied and information on how each candidate met or failed to meet the job's requirements.

Although the policy of discouraging the conversion of political appointees to career employees dates back to the Carter administration, Berry wrote there were two important changes in the latest version, which took effect Jan. 1, 2010.

For one, OPM now conducts its pre-hiring reviews continually, not just during the year leading up to a presidential election.

“Second, we expanded the scope of our review for future hiring decisions,” Berry wrote. “In the past, OPM only reviewed an agency’s proposed hiring of a current or former political appointee when the career federal job was in the competitive service. Under our revised policy, OPM reviews proposed hiring of current or former political appointees for jobs in the excepted service as well. OPM's responsibility to ensure merit-based hiring for federal jobs includes both the excepted and competitive service.”

Posted by Michael Hardy on Jun 14, 2012 at 12:19 PM0 comments


SES members fed up with slackers

An overwhelming majority of Senior Executive Service members are proud of the work they do but many are fed up with the slackers in their agency, according to a new survey.

The Office of Personnel and Management’s new report polling nearly 5,000 reveals some of the strengths and challenges facing today’s Senior Executive Service members. Overall, the respondents were optimistic about the career path they had chosen:

  • 94 percent said they were proud to be a member of the Senior Executive Service.
  • 93 percent said their work gives them a sense of personal accomplishment.
  • 92 percent said they are held accountable for achieving results.

However, the survey wasn’t all good news. Federal agencies continue to struggle with poor performers, and only 28 percent of the SES respondents said their organization deals effectively with executives who don’t do their part. It may not be coincidental that 92 percent of the respondents. said pay should be based on performance.

The Federal Labor Relations Authority topped the list of organizations that respondents said do the best job of weeding out the layabouts. Still, just 11.1 percent of respondents said they “strongly agree” that their own agencies are dealing with slackers.

The survey findings also indicated that fewer SES members were satisfied with pay and recognition in 2011 compared to the 2008 survey, something the report stated was “unsurprising” given the current pay freeze.

Posted by Camille Tuutti on May 29, 2012 at 12:19 PM1 comments


Who's the top employer among IT and engineering students?

Forget Google or Apple, if you’re an engineering major. A new poll shows that more college students in that field are choosing government agencies as their dream employer over private-sector firms.

Employer branding firm Universum recently polled more than 59,640 undergraduates to find out their ideal employer in specific fields of study, including business, engineering and IT. And no surprise there: Google was once again voted the top employer among business and IT majors. The company also earned a number 5 spot among engineering students and was chosen as a preferred employer by nearly half of those students.

The top employer in engineering, however, was a government agency. NASA was picked by 17 percent in its respective field. The Energy Department was also in the top 10 for engineering majors, placing seventh in that category.

Top 10 engineering:
1. NASA
2. Boeing
3. Lockheed Martin Corporation
4. Google
5. General Electric
6. Apple
7. Energy Department
8. Exxon Mobil Corporation
9. Walt Disney Company
10. BMW

Top 10 IT:
1. Google
2. Microsoft
3. Apple
4. Facebook
5. IBM
6. Amazon
7. Intel
8. Electronic Arts
9. Walt Disney Company
10. Sony

The State Department, the FBI and the CIA were popular picks among liberal-arts students, although the Walt Disney Company snagged the top spot. 

Top 10 humanities/liberal arts/education:
1. Walt Disney Company
2. United Nations
3. Teach for America
4. Google
5. State Department
 6. Apple
7. Peace Corps
8. FBI
9. Central Intelligence Agency
10. American Cancer Society

Posted by Camille Tuutti on May 21, 2012 at 12:19 PM0 comments


Politically minded feds gain unexpected ally

A Utah congressman who’s supporting new legislation for federal employees to have more latitude for political activism and participation hasn’t always had feds’ backs.

Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) recently became the lead Republican cosponsor of the Hatch Act Modernization Act, which aims to overhaul the 70-year old legislation that bans executive branch employees, D.C. government employees, and some state and local employees who work with federally funded program from engaging in political activity.

The updated Hatch Act was introduced by Sens. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii), Mike Lee (R-Utah), Joseph Lieberman (ID-Conn.) and Carl Levin (D-Mich.), and Reps. Elijah Cummings (D-Md), Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.), Gerry Connolly (D-Va), James Moran (D-Va.) and Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.). Among other provisions, it would allow government employees to run for elective office, and would give the Merit Systems Protection Board more flexibility in setting the punishment for employees who violate the Hacth Act.

Chaffetz said the new legislation is “simple, fair, and essential to ensure that actions taken against public employees engaging in political activities are not unjust.”

Chaffetz hasn’t exactly been a friend of the government workforce in the past. He previously rallied for a smaller federal workforce and bringing federal compensation to be more in line with private industry, meaning lower pay.

“Bloated salary and benefit packages, in addition to draining scarce resources, may limit the growth and mobility of employees while reducing the inflow of young, energetic workers at the lower end of the salary scale,” he wrote in an April 2 op-ed. He also suggested firing feds who were late on their federal tax obligations.

“Most federal employees take their tax obligations seriously,” he wrote in the op-ed. “But those who are unwilling to play by the rules should not be entitled to the privileges of federal employment."

Posted by Camille Tuutti on May 18, 2012 at 12:19 PM1 comments


3 steps for federal CIOs toward greater IT success

It’s no secret the federal government has squandered hundreds of billions of dollars on failed IT projects over the past decade, prompting former U.S. CIO Vivek Kundra in 2010 to come up with a plan to address what he called “systemic problems” and reform federal IT management.

Two years later and with a new federal CIO Steven VanRoekel at the helm, several milestones in Kundra’s 25-point plan have been met, including directives known as “the firsts.” Those “firsts” – cloud first, shared first and future first – have now provided inspiration to new guidelines for federal CIOs as outlined by Evan McDonnell, vice president of solutions at Appian, in his new white paper “Adapting to the New Information Technology Directives: A Guide for Federal Government CIOs.”

Here are some of McDonnell's principles for better federal IT management:

Implement “business-ready” technology:
Commercial off-the-shelf applications present a problem when federal CIOs need to make modifications. McDonnell suggests considering business process management platforms that give CIOs the opportunity to tailor applications to their unique needs – for less money and less time.
“As federal CIOs adopt business-ready technology like BPM, business process stakeholders will become less dependent on IT to design and configure processes to create new applications,” McDonnell predicts.

Move to one platform:
Agencies have traditionally bought software from different vendors to get the best application for each need, resulting in multiple systems that don’t always communicate or mesh well with each other. However, if CIOs were to use a single business process management software, they would eliminate the headache of having users log in from various software packages. “Even greater economies of scale are possible if federal CIOs share the core of their applications with other agencies,” McDonnell writes. “Such ‘frameworks’ can be tailored to fit each agency’s specific mission saving substantial development costs.”

Shift to agile:
Agile development has lately emerged as a go-to method to handle IT projects rather than the traditional “waterfall” approach. Not only is the latter approach slow; it relies on procurement officers to detail all known requirements and predict future requirements – an impossible task because users often don’t know what they want until they’ve tried a new technology, McDonnell points out. “As long as the government focuses on COTS products, this problem can never go away,” he writes. “It could go away if the government moved back to custom development with a shift to ‘agile‘ development approaches where applications are built in ‘sprints’ with frequent user feedback.”


McDonnell had several other interesting things to say. You can read the full report here.

Posted by Camille Tuutti on May 16, 2012 at 12:19 PM1 comments


Belt-tightening prevents long-term plans for federal managers

The current fiscal era can be downright scary to all government employees, and budget uncertainty is paralyzing the federal government’s effort to move forward and look for efficiencies, according to a former Agriculture Department official.

“The environment is so unstable that federal managers are afraid to make long-term commitments because of ceilings and spending caps, short-term appropriations and fear of sequestration -- they don’t know which way to turn,” said John Ortego, president of Ortego & Associates and former director of USDA’s National Finance Center.

The inability to predict their own appropriations for the next two years has led to many CIOs and CFOs to go into survival mode, Ortego said. 

Ortego and officials from Commerce Department and the Office of Management and Budget participated in a May 10 keynote presentation organized by 1105 Media, the parent company of Federal Computer Week.

The focus of the panel was CFO and CIO perspective on current IT trends that had emerged in the belt-tightening era, and included a discussion on legacy systems and how to determine when to retire them.

Scott Quehl, CFO and assistant secretary of administration at Commerce, acknowledged how his agency in the last two decades had had some major stumbling blocks in the area of systems acquisition.

The agency now has a new acquisition policy that addresses major  IT systems acquisitions, Quehl said, and its FY14 budget guidance calls on Commerce bureaus to identify top 50 projects that meet certain thresholds.

The bureaus also have to review whether a siloed approach to risk management makes sense and determine what projects need to be canceled or need more doubling-down in terms of funding, he said.

Posted by Camille Tuutti on May 10, 2012 at 12:19 PM0 comments


Readers question federal IT pay survey

A recent survey claimed that although salaries for federal IT pros remained stagnant in past couple of years, government IT workers still earn more than their private-sector counterparts. Readers, however, were ... let's say, skeptical.

“Where I live, I get 16 percent locality pay,” wrote reader Richard. “That is, I get 16 percent more than other IT guys in federal service at my grade. Even at that, my peers in private industry get 15 to 25 percent MORE than I do."

DaleR also questioned the survey methodology and the cohort polled. “Where does this $97,000 figure come from?” he asked. “Nobody in my IT shop makes close to that except the CIO. Poll places outside of D.C. for a real snapshot of what government employees make (IT). Contractors make a lot more than us. It is a fact.”

Lee agreed, pointing to how the D.C. region tends to have higher salaries compared to other parts of the country. “I think they need to take their surveys outside the Washington beltway where the IT specialty pay is a lot less,” Lee commented. “I believe the average fed IT pay is quite a bit less than the $97,000 they quote. It's more like lower $80,000s.”

DT also asked, perhaps rhetorically, perhaps literally, where the salary numbers come from. (The link to the InformationWeek’s survey can be found here. It wasn’t accessible at the time I was blogging about it.)

“I've been in government IT for 25 years, and I don't know anyone making that amount of money except higher management. And I mean very high management. Like the director of all of IT here,” DT said.

Another longtime federal IT professional said that after working 17 years at the Veterans Affairs Department, and being one of the highest-paid IT staff, “I make less than $90,000. Not sure where these people who make $97,000 work, but they must be upper management in the government, not a local IT worker bee."

Taking a more analytical approach to the numbers, Scott pointed out that comparison of salaries between government and industry often focuses just on compensation and don’t consider retirement benefits and automatic time-in-grade promotions.

However, “throw this into the mix with the data presented in this article and one can easily decipher that, for IT, federal employees make a lot more money than their private counterparts,” he said. 
 

Posted by Camille Tuutti on May 07, 2012 at 12:19 PM6 comments