Charting fed trends online

The Office of Personnel Management is making progress developing an online workforce planning system that will help agencies comply with the Bush administration's mandate of reducing the management ranks in government.

As part of the fiscal 2002 budget request, OPM said it plans to roll out a fully functional online planning system in fiscal 2002 that will give agencies a single place to access and analyze workforce data as they make recruiting, hiring and training plans for the future.

The system will incorporate different workforce data, a planning model or a guide, and an analysis tool.

"The tool can help with the initiative to de-layer management positions because it goes back to what does an organization need to accomplish," said an OPM official speaking on background. The tool, along with a five-step planning guide, will help agencies evaluate their organizational structure and how well it meets their mission.

Last summer, OPM evaluated a prototype analysis tool developed by SAS Institute Inc. that allowed agencies to search across information from various sources including the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Census Bureau and the National Center on Education Statistics.

Agencies can already access this data, but not from a single location and not without the use of an analysis tool, which OPM plans to develop with the help of a vendor once it determines agency requirements. In workforce planning, agencies consider such things as the mission of the agency and what knowledge, skills and type of workforce they will need in order to fulfill that mission.

The tool will help them anticipate changes in attrition, identify retirement trends and assess skills supply and occupational shortages and growth. "There's a great deal of interest in finding out who is eligible for retirement and forecast to retire, and in looking at occupations where there are problems," said the OPM official. "By going through the planning process, it's possible to take some action to prepare for the future."

Faced with a slew of retirements, a tight labor market and a changing business environment, many agencies have already started to put in place their own workforce plans. The Naval Supply Systems Command (Navsup), for instance, started assessing its situation in June 1999 after it realized that years of downsizing had taken its toll.

First, it determined what the agency would look like in 2005, said Bonnie Armstrong, director of Navsup's Civilian Workforce Planning Office. "The model we looked at said you need to figure out what your business needs to be in that time frame."

Then the agency defined the skills and people it would need and determined where any gaps would be. Among other things, it found that 60 percent of its computer specialists are eligible for early retirement within five years. Much of Navsup's focus has been on providing career paths and education and training programs for its employees so they can handle the agency's future role as a manager of suppliers and supply change management. "We've identified the general skill set we need and are homing in on specific skills we need," Armstrong said. "That process is not easy to do. That's where we're looking for tools."

Navsup created a simple database management system to analyze its own workforce, such as how many computer programmers there are. The agency, however, would welcome new tools to help it plan, Armstrong said.

The OPM tool would have to be user friendly and flexible to be useful, said Karen Hogan, acting deputy chief information officer at the Commerce Department. It's hard to say, too, whether a tool would help the department with its biggest challenge of "changing our work" and figuring out "what work are we going to be doing for the next several years," she added.

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