GAO reviews workforce perks

Human Capital: Effective Use of Flexibilities Can Assist Agencies in Managing Their Workforces

Recruitment bonuses and retention allowances are among the most effective workforce flexibilities in use at agencies, according to a General Accounting Office report released Dec. 9.

Other effective flexibilities include alternative work schedules, child care assistance, transit subsidies, cash and time-off awards for good work, student employment, and outstanding scholar programs.

U.S Mint officials, for example, told GAO that they use on-the-spot awards, time-off awards and gain-sharing to reward and recognize employees. The State Department's Information Resource Management Bureau gives quarterly awards to employees instead of waiting for annual job performance reviews.

GAO identified five additional categories of workforce flexibilities that agency and union officials said would be helpful if authorized for the government. These include:

* More flexible pay approaches.

* Greater flexibility to streamline and improve the federal hiring process.

* Increased flexibility in addressing employees' poor job performance.

* Additional workforce restructuring options.

* Expanded flexibility in acquiring and retaining temporary employees.

These suggestions, GAO said, "provide a starting point for executive branch decision-makers and Congress to consider as they seek to reform federal human capital policies and practices."

Recent legislation that created the Homeland Security Department also gave agencies the authority to use additional workforce flexibilities. For example, agencies can offer buy-outs to their employees without having to reduce their overall number of employees. This will help agencies "more easily restructure their workforces" and fix skills imbalances, GAO said.

Still, some union officials have concerns about the ability of agencies to use additional personnel flexibilities and still protect employees' rights, GAO said. Several union officials said it would be easier for managers to abuse their authority when using these flexibilities.

GAO also laid out five key practices, such as changing the organizational culture, to help guide agencies as they use workforce flexibilities. Agencies must determine which flexibilities are most appropriate for managing their workforce, GAO concluded. Ineffective or insufficient use of these programs can "significantly hinder the ability of federal agencies to recruit, hire, retain and manage their human capital," GAO said.

The Office of Personnel Management is one of the agencies that submitted a response to a draft version of the report. OPM Director Kay Coles James raised concerns about GAO's suggestion that agencies be allowed to use personnel flexibilities once they have made a business case for using them.

James said OPM is obligated to review and analyze all agency requests to use additional flexibilities, and to create new ones to ensure that no agency has an unfair competitive advantage over another.

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