2006 was the year of the young
Agencies’ efforts to attract the next generation intensified and pandemic planners got busy
In hindsight, we might remember 2006 as the year in which government sharpened its focus on bringing younger employees into its ranks. Facing an exodus of older workers in recent years — and 2006 was no exception — feds fretted about how to compete with the salaries and flexibilities the private sector can offer talented job candidates.
Other issues also held the attention of agency managers. Ongoing telework efforts and continuity-of-operations (COOP) planning became more urgent because of worries about a possible influenza pandemic. The Defense Department implemented certification requirements for information assurance and introduced two phases of a pay-for-performance system, while the Office of Personnel Management tried to assure executives in civilian agencies that the notion could work throughout government.
All of those efforts will continue into the new year.Electronic youth
Agency managers find it challenging to recruit young people into federal service. The pinch is especially acute for information technology positions because young job seekers often think — sometimes wrongly — that the private sector always pays more than the federal government. But money is not the only recruitment challenge. Many students have a negative impression of government as an employer. Fiascos such as the federal response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005 haven’t helped recruiting efforts, according to a report the Partnership for Public Service issued in May.
Only 3 percent of the federal workforce is younger than 25, and nearly 44 percent is old enough to retire by 2010. Despite the job opportunities that are opening, however, only four in 10 engineering students said they were “very interested” or “extremely interested” in federal employment, the Partnership for Public Service study found. Only 27 percent of those surveyed had sought information about working for the government.
The CIO Council is taking modest steps toward mitigating public perceptions of government employment by reviving Job Shadow Day, a one-day program it last offered in 2003. High school students will follow government IT employees around for a day to observe their jobs. The benefits are likely to be slight, however, because organizers expect no more than 200 students to participate in the Feb. 1, 2007, event.
Meanwhile, agency managers are coming to grips with the technology demands of younger workers, who often come from homes and schools where they have access to wireless networks, handheld devices and other technologies that are rapidly becoming commonplace. Experts believe the influx of 20-somethings could push agencies to adopt newer innovations and revise security polices to accommodate them. Flu fears fuel federal telework planning efforts
Agency managers spent time in 2006 worrying about the possibilities of a pandemic disease. Whether or not the widely discussed avian flu mutates into a form that is highly contagious among humans, health experts anticipate a pandemic of some sort will occur.
If a highly contagious influenza outbreak swept through the United States, infected workers would stay home. So, too, would many uninfected people trying to avoid contracting the disease. The demand for telework would soar, and some emergency planners fear that agencies have not examined their internal networks to determine whether they could support that kind of burden.
Agencies have shown a growing sense of urgency about pandemic planning, and some have stepped up their COOP planning, said David Songco, chief information officer at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.
“The organizations had considered it important but not so urgent,” Songco said. “The pandemic flu threat changed all that.”
The government moved forward with other telework initiatives that are likely to become part of any pandemic response. In March, the General Services Administration clarified telework rules for managers. Stanley Kaczmarczyk, deputy associate administrator at GSA’s Office of Real Property and governmentwide telework program leader, said the move showed policy-makers’ determination for agencies to make progress on telework policies and practices.
“There are no excuses for not having a robust telework program,” Kaczmarczyk said at the time. “We have a law on the books, and now we have implementing regulations.”
Other emergencies could also require a massive federal response. In November, GSA opened an emergency response center to expedite acquisition services in fast-moving situations. Pay-for-performance programs make some progress
The government tried to move ahead with pay-for-performance programs in 2006 but got mixed results. DOD’s National Security Personnel System, touted as a leading model for rewarding civilian employees based on how well they do their jobs rather than on how long they have held their jobs, hit a roadblock in February when a federal court ruled that the program’s labor relations provisions were illegal.
The ruling largely concerned collective bargaining and other employee rights, not the basic pay-for-performance concept. DOD implemented two phases of the system in 2006, dubbed Spiral 1.1 and Spiral 1.2. When Spiral 1.2 is completed by the end of January 2007, some 70,000 employees will be receiving their pay and raises under the system.
The reason for replacing the General Schedule and Federal Wage System with the new pay system is to give managers greater discretion in rewarding top performers and withholding raises from those who do substandard work, said Mary Lacey, program executive officer for NSPS. “It becomes a conscious decision that managers have to make, as opposed to where we are today, when 85 percent of payroll costs are on cruise control,” she said. Agencies start training, certification process
As the face of the workforce changed and technology evolved in 2006, training and certification remained significant concerns for agencies. In December 2005, DOD established a program to improve its information assurance workforce. That program began to bear fruit in 2006. DOD’s Directive 8570.1 establishes several categories for jobs related to information assurance, and it sets specific certification requirements for each. The directive applies not only to agency employees but also to contractors. Those seeking work in information assurance must have their employees certified.
In May, OPM issued guidelines on the reporting of training data, which agencies will have to begin Dec. 31. The guidelines ask each agency to maintain proper records of training plans, costs and activities and submit the data through OPM’s governmentwide electronic data collection system. Agencies must also maintain schedules of records based on National Archives and Records Administration guidelines.