Planning for personnel changes

Officials at federal human resources departments must not only replace thousands of retiring employees but also implement a new law intended to eliminate stand-alone personnel systems.

The law is called the Chief Human Capital Officers Act of 2002. It is a congressional mandate, which went into effect last year, that requires agencies to change the way human resources systems work.

A recent General Accounting Office study indicated that 24 federal agencies that have human capital officers to address personnel issues still need to reform their hiring practices to find the right talent to more successfully accomplish their missions.

"By their very nature, the problems and challenges facing agencies are crosscutting and thus require coordinated and integrated solutions," according to the report.

Kay Coles James, director of the Office of Personnel Management, told a recent hearing of the House Government Reform Committee's Civil Service and Agency Organization Subcommittee that the law has raised the profile of the problem — the lack of a modern personnel system. But there is much work to be done to create a human resources environment with long-term goals, she said.

"It is no longer adequate to say [that] we'll open the doors and people will come," James told the subcommittee.

She said federal human resources officers must find a better way to compete with the private sector for the best and brightest employees.

Because the private sector often can offer more money than agencies can, human resources officials must simultaneously "involve the stakeholders at every level," she said.

OPM officials have several initiatives under way to help agencies with their hiring practices. They plan to launch a Chief Human Capital Officers Council Web site soon that will provide information and resources to council members and agency managers.

OPM officials also are developing a new pay scale for federal executives. James recently told federal agencies how they can use existing tools to accelerate hiring practices and whittle a time-consuming process down to 45 days.

In the meantime, council members have organized changes in five areas affecting personnel: the hiring process, performance management, leadership development, employee conduct and performance, and emergency preparedness.

"The federal government is doing a better job of managing its workforce today than in the past," said Vicki Novak, the chief human capital officer at NASA, in a prepared statement to the subcommittee.

"In past years, there probably was more emphasis on meeting current needs with less focus placed on the more distant horizon and what that meant in terms of future workforce needs," Novak said.

The law is intended to emphasize that effective personnel management must be more proactive and more integrated into a department's or agency's line of business, Novak said.

Officials must address long-term human resources needs as they would capital planning. They must develop a potential leadership pool for the future and attract people from the private sector, she said.

Government officials will likely need years to change their thinking about personnel, hiring systems and promotion systems.

"There is a significant trend that we see both in the private sector and public sector that there is a need for the top HR professional to take a seat at the leadership table [in order] to enable them to address the strategic value of human capital," said Nicole Willenz Gardner, business unit leader of the human capital solutions practice in IBM Corp.'s Business Consulting Services. She co-edited the new book "Human Capital 2004."

"As jobs have become more flexible and skill sets more broad and technologically advanced, there's a recognition that people and human capital have to be managed just as you manage other things in an organization," she said.


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