HR gets a promotion

President's Management Agenda

The chief human capital officer position will soon become the norm in agencies, as leaders — with some prodding from the Bush administration — focus more on developing and managing the federal workforce.

A provision in the Homeland Security Act of 2002 requires agencies to name a chief human capital officer — a senior-level person who can serve as chief policy adviser on all human resources management issues.

Workforce issues took on a new sense of urgency when the President's Management Agenda listed strategic workforce management as a priority for agencies. The chief human capital officer will be the person ultimately accountable for the strategic management of an agency's workforce.

Office of Personnel Management Director Kay Coles James asked each department and agency leader to name a chief human capital officer by May 24. She said the person can come from inside or outside government and should have executive leadership experience and human resources competencies.

For instance, the person should align an agency's workforce plan with its mission, goals and performance objectives. He or she must also ensure that workforce planning and deployment plans fit with the agency's budget, financial and operating plans.

In a May 13 letter to Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), James said OPM will soon publish a roster of the government's first "class" of chief human capital officers. In addition, the first meeting of the Chief Human Capital Officers Council is scheduled for early June, and a training academy for the officers is being developed.

The Education Department, the General Services Administration and the General Accounting Office are among the agencies that have a chief human capital officer. And on May 5, President Bush announced his intention to nominate Ronald James to be chief human capital officer of the Homeland Security Department.

Just as the chief information officer position is not a technology job, the chief human capital officer position is not a human resources job, said Bill Leidinger, assistant secretary of Education for management, CIO and now chief human capital officer.

"Everything we do is interrelated," Leidinger said May 14 at a forum hosted by the Partnership for Public Service. "It's all driven by the work we do and what's needed in terms of people and processes."

Leidinger said wearing three hats comes in handy when facing the need for certified information technology managers, an issue many departments face. As CIO, he can focus on the re-engineering of key business processes, and as the chief human capital officer, he can identify and fill workforce needs in the IT solutions.

As the chief human capital officer, Leidinger identifies skills gaps, aligns training and focuses on performance and accountability.

"What sets the chief human capital officer apart...is the higher focus on people as an asset to the organization as opposed to a cost to the organization and meshing your human capital decisions with your business decisions," said Gail Lovelace, chief human capital officer and chief people officer at GSA. Lovelace reports to the administrator and sits at the table with the CIO, chief financial officer and other agency leaders.

Although some of her responsibilities involve human resources functions such as pay, benefits, training, hiring and firing, it is her involvement in strategic planning that sets her job apart. "When GSA is focused on business issues and needs, I am part of that discussion," Lovelace said.

She has been chief people officer at GSA since 1998, before there was broad support for strategic human capital management, she said. Eventually, her chief human capital officer and chief people officer titles will be combined.

Being "part of the business" of GSA, Lovelace said she has had to change the way she talks about workforce issues.

"I have to talk about business terms, not human resources terms," she said. "I have to develop business case analyses. I have to define for GSA management what the return on investment will be. It's about presenting ideas and opportunities in a more business-like fashion. This is a business just like every other part of GSA."

Similarly, Jesse Hoskins, chief human capital officer at GAO, said he is involved with "anything related to people," including retention, recruitment, benefits, performance management, workforce planning and strategic planning.

"There are a lot of partners that participate in workforce and succession planning," he said. GAO drafts a needs assessment every year and operates under a five-year strategic plan. "We work collectively to make sure we're meeting strategic goals and efforts."

Since last year, GAO has worked on transforming its workforce.

"Our IT folks are our strongest partners because through them, we will be able to reconfigure what we have in terms of where we dedicate our resources," Hoskins said.

Sara Michael contributed to this article.

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Workforce planning

The Chief Human Capital Officers Act of 2002 established the position in government, with the following provisions:

* The person is accountable for strategic management of the agency's workforce.

* The person should have a high seniority level and the trust of the department secretary or agency head.

* The person may be either a new appointee or someone already in government who is assigned an additional title.

* The person should be on the senior leadership team.

* The person should have qualities and competencies that go beyond those traditionally found in a human resources staff member.

* The person should be chosen after an extensive search and competition.

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