Springer wants OPM to lead by example

Director says an employee-developed strategic plan now guides the agency

The Office of Personnel Management has been playing catch-up with issues that U.S. Comptroller General David Walker identified at a recent Senate subcommittee hearing, OPM Director Linda Springer said in a July 14 interview. Walker testified that OPM had an aging, unhappy workforce, hardly what he expected from an agency that seeks to lead by example with its own management practices.

Springer said the Government Accountability Office reached its conclusion based on survey results that OPM published in 2004. “We knew from the ’04 Human Capital Survey that there were things that we wanted to do a better job with,” she said. “One of those is that people need to feel they have good clear goals. They need to feel they’re engaged in the organization.”

Springer asked OPM employees to develop a new Strategic and Operational Plan, which the agency published in March. The employee-developed plan, which lists 170 long- and short-term objectives to accomplish in five years, has revitalized the agency, she said. “OPM needed kind of a blood transfusion, and we’ve had that now.”

Last month, OPM announced it had achieved 30 of the 170 objectives it published in March. That milestone warranted a modest celebration. Springer scooped ice cream for hundreds of OPM employees.

But Springer has more ambitious objectives on her management agenda that will take longer to achieve. At the top of that list is modernizing the federal government’s retirement benefits processing systems. In June, when the House Appropriations Committee did not include OPM’s requested $26.7 million for the Retirement Systems Modernization (RSM) project in its fiscal 2007 appropriations bill, OPM officials were immediately concerned.

However, the funding loss occurred accidentally as part of a blanket appropriations cut, Springer said. Lawmakers “didn’t realize what they had done to RSM. It wasn’t on the merits.”

She said she met with key senators and staff members working on the appropriations legislation. On July 21, the Senate Appropriations Committee restored the funding that the House had cut. “They don’t want this to be another of those projects that gets funding and never goes online,” she said. “My job is to give them assurances that this project will be successful.”

Springer said she has been shopping for a candidate to lead the RSM project. “I haven’t hired anyone yet, but I’ve been interviewing people for a project manager position,” she said. Springer wants a manager who has a proven track record of working on projects similar to RSM. “They’re not easy candidates to find,” she said, adding that she expects to make an announcement soon.

OPM has awarded two of three contracts for accomplishing a modernization effort that could last 10 years and cost $300 million. One was awarded to Hewitt Associates for defined-benefits retirement services to which retirees can gain access online. Accenture won a contract to establish a transition model for OPM as it updates its processes for managing retirement benefits.

OPM will award a third contract in early August, which will pay for digitizing 144,000 file drawers of federal employees’ paper records stored in Boyers, Pa.

Another of Springer’s top concerns is that a large wave of retiring federal workers will leave the government with an inexperienced and understaffed workforce. OPM released a research brief July 18 showing that a third of white-collar federal workers are approaching retirement age. OPM must work on marketplace branding, Springer said. It must spread the message that the federal government is a place where someone can be a doctor, a lawyer or an information technology specialist and “have the added benefit that you’re providing a service to your country,” she said.

Among OPM’s long-term objectives is a governmentwide switchover to pay-for-performance systems. That change could be difficult to achieve, but Springer said she is confident that the government will replace the 55-year-old General Schedule pay system in the next few years with a more contemporary one.

“I don’t know if it’ll happen during my tenure, but the GS system is going to be replaced with something more modern and more effective in reflecting performance,” she said.

As a step toward that objective, OPM is testing employee performance measures at several federal agencies, Springer said.

Telework is another of OPM’s priorities under the new strategic and operational plan. In August, the agency will release a complete telework guide for continuing government operations during a flu pandemic, Springer said.

A sweet reward for improved performance

Linda Springer, director of the Office of Personnel Management, scooped ice cream July 13 for employees to thank them for meeting 30 of the agency’s operational objectives this year. Other long-term strategic objectives remain at the top of Springer’s management agenda.

The top four are:

  • Modernizing the federal retirement system.

  • Replenishing the federal workforce.

  • Establishing telework as the centerpiece of federal continuity-of-operations plans during a flu pandemic.

  • Creating a new federal pay system in which raises are based on job performance rather than years of service.

— Wade-Hahn Chan

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