Hot or not: Not a case of business as usual

Some CIOs gained new authorities, but not all gains offset the challenges facing managers

What was cooking this year in management? Issues such as greater union influence and telework simmered while pay for performance and fears about a big retirement wave cooled off.

Hot: Unions
The House Homeland Security Committee in March approved a fiscal 2008 authorization bill for the Homeland Security Department that included an amendment to repeal parts of the department’s new performance-based personnel system. The amendment was introduced by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), who later acknowledged that the National Treasury Employees Union helped get the language drafted and approved.

NTEU’s role in the Jackson Lee amendment illustrates that when the Democrats took charge of Congress this year, the government’s unions gained more influence and visibility.

“There is no question that the change in control in Congress has given the unions a more sympathetic ear in certain committees and subcommittees,” said Comptroller General David Walker, who leads the Government Accountability Office.

Walker has witnessed the rise in union influence firsthand at GAO. In September, GAO’s analysts voted by a wide margin to be represented by a labor union, the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers.

Earlier this year, IFPTE filed a petition to form a union after more than half of GAO’s analysts signed cards endorsing a vote on unionization. In doing so, the analysts expressed concerns about issues
relating to GAO’s pay-for-performance system.

Walker said pay for performance and competitive sourcing, under which government jobs potentially are outsourced to private industry, are issues that have driven the boom in union activity in 2007. “Those are very important and emotional issues and in general, unions are opposed to both. Not always, but in general they are.”
— Richard W. Walker

Not hot: Pay for performance
It’s pretty quiet these days on the pay-for-performance front. Five years ago, the Bush administration launched an initiative to revolutionize the way federal employees are compensated, linking pay increases to performance evaluations and replacing the General Schedule system of automatic raises. But the effort — which was intended to help improve overall government performance — has sputtered into a few limited programs, pilot experiments and cautious implementations at small agencies.

The largest program, the Defense Department’s National Security Personnel System, covers about 113,000 mostly white-collar workers — out of about 740,000 eventually slated for coverage. But the collective-bargaining and labor-relations portions of the NSPS statute are still in dispute and haven’t been deployed. Congress must decide how to sort out those parts of the law, observers say.

Linda Springer, director of the Office of Personnel Management, said DOD is “doing a good job” of implementing NSPS but added that “expansion of that isn’t something one would expect to see at this point.”

Even GAO’s pay-for-performance system, once held as a shining model for success, evinced some flaws when the covers were peeled back. GAO employees, who formed a labor union this year, criticized the system’s pay-band structure and complained that they lacked a voice in the development and design of the system.

Few observers now see pay for performance as a panacea. More stock has to be put into overall efforts to improve government effectiveness, experts say.

“Tinkering with the pay piece just isn’t going to do it,” said Max Stier, president and chief executive officer at the Partnership for Public Service.
— Richard W. Walker

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Hot: Telework
Rising energy prices, disaster preparedness, an aging federal workforce and data security worries thrust federal telework policy into the spotlight in 2007.

Although government officials have talked for years about the utility of a more mobile federal workforce, agencies and lawmakers now seem to be swinging into action and committing to firm policies and goals for working outside the office.

Agencies have hailed telework as a workforce-improvement tool — a way to recruit new talent and to encourage would-be retirees to stick around for a bit and mentor younger employees. The General Services Administration put itself in the forefront on telework in 2007, setting a goal of having half its employees telework at least one day a week within three years.

Like many agencies, GSA also has begun issuing laptop PCs to its teleworking employees to mitigate the security issues related to home computers that run file-sharing networks.

On the legislative side, lawmakers in the House and Senate introduced bills this year aimed at boosting the number of federal employees who regularly telework and increasing agencies’ accountability in that
effort.

Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.), a long-time proponent of telework, said that he was pleased with the progress that the government made in 2007, but there was still room for improvement.

“All the factors have come together,” he said. “The case [for telework] has been made the merits are out there — it’s just a matter of education.”
— Ben Bain

Not hot: Retirement wave
The image of a giant retirement wave rising up, breaking and wiping out the government’s aging workforce doesn’t pack the punch it did a few years ago.

For one thing, concerns over a retirement wave are receding as agencies find prudent ways to manage the retirement outflow through succession planning, new recruitment and retention tools, and other methods.

“It has been coming in smaller waves or pulses because we’ve tried to manage it,” said Reginald Wells, deputy commissioner of human resources and chief human capital officer at the Social Security Administration. “There’s steady pressure on our workforce, but it hasn’t had the spike that had been predicted a decade ago for us.”

One approach to mitigating the impact at SSA is offering early retirement as an option to employees, Wells said. “It’s allowed us to flatten the retirement wave a bit [because] it frees [us] to bring in new talent.” SSA also tries to retain older workers, with the result that the number who elect to stay has grown, Wells said.

Government managers are less panicky about the prospects of a retirement wave. In a recent survey by Tandberg, only 22 percent of federal managers identified retiring employees as the issue that will have the most effect on the government in the next two years. They were more worried about the war in Iraq, the change in administrations in 2009, and spending on health care and Social Security.

Nevertheless, there will be a large number of retirements in the coming years. The Office of Personnel Management estimates that 60 percent of the federal workforce will be eligible to retire during the next 10 years. Based on historical trends, OPM officials expect about two-thirds of those employees to retire when they first become eligible, said OPM Director Linda Springer. “The peak is coming near the end of the decade,” she said. “That is a challenge for us.”
— Richard W. Walker

Hot: CIO budget authority
Chief information officer budget power was on the rise in 2007.

Although the Ve erans Affairs Department an S are the only r agencies where CIOs have gained budget authority over their information technology environments, it is more widely recognized in 2007 that centralized IT management can smooth the path for an agency to implement initiatives that require agencies to operate more efficiently and effectively.

VA is reorganizing its IT management, workforce and applications development directly under its CIO, Robert Howard. The theft in May 2006 of a VA laptop PC containing the personal data of millions of veterans accelerated the centralization of its IT environment, which Congress mandated. The data breach revealed the inability of the CIO’s office to enforce security policies across the department.
At DHS, Secretary Michael Chertoff granted CIO Scott Charbo authority over budget planning, workforce and project approval for the component agencies’ IT.

“Centralization will lead to a higher probability of success for large, complex IT programs,” said Rep. Steve Buyer (R-Ind.), ranking member of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee.

The Office of Management and Budget, however, has said that most CIOs already have responsibility to manage technology investments. CIOs can exert their influence through their participation in agency executive and CIO councils and interagency organizations, OMB has said.
— Mary Mosquera

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