Tackling workforce planning

President's Management Agenda

"Human Capital 2002," edited by Mark Abramson and Nicole Willenz Gardner. Available in paperback through Amazon.com or Roman & Littlefield, the publisher (www.rowmanlittlefield.com), for $24.95.

Listen to the federal government's leading managers talk about how to deal with the coming workforce crisis in information technology and you'll hear "flexibility" over and over again.

Office of Personnel Management Director Kay Coles James says federal managers must have the flexibility to recruit and hire new employees as the federal workforce ages. The President's Management Agenda urges agencies to "make better use of the flexibilities currently in place," link salaries to performance and beef up workers' skills levels. And the National Academy of Public Administration has reported that compensation and other human resources management programs must be "sufficiently flexible" to meet current and future information technology workforce needs.

But how, exactly, are federal managers to achieve that much-vaunted flexibility? "Human Capital 2002," a new collection of research reports from the PricewaterhouseCoopers Endowment for the Business of Government, has some intriguing answers.

In a chapter titled "Winning the Best and Brightest," for example, the author urges managers seeking to hire graduates from the country's leading programs in public policy and administration to find ways to eliminate rigid hierarchies and introduce autonomy and the sort of fluid structure that offers a wide range of opportunities for professional development.

"New graduates are not necessarily aspiring to decision-making roles, but they are looking for positions in which they can think about programs or policy, offer advice that will be taken into account, and feel that they are making a contribution commensurate with their skills," writes Carol Chetkovich, a professor at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government.

For older workers, "flexibility" can be defined as the ability to move between agencies, according to a chapter with case studies of six career senior executives whose wide-ranging careers have enabled them to make unique contributions to government.

Dennis Fischer, for example, worked with the U.S. Mint, the Health Care Financing Administration and the former Department of Health, Education and Welfare before serving as the commissioner of the Federal Technology Service in the General Services Administration from 1997 to 2000. Because of his experience, Fischer told the chapter's authors, when joining a new agency, "my approach is to tiptoe in.... I try to assess the staff and make the most of the current people and organization, rather than coming in with a group of my own staff from a prior agency."

Other chapters focus on using special authorities to recruit crucial personnel, "growing" leaders, finding new approaches to labor/management partnerships and promoting diversity in the federal workplace. This book, the seventh in a series, was edited by Mark Abramson, the first president of the Council for Excellence in Government and now executive director of the Endowment for the Business of Government, which makes grants for research in government management.

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