Agencies must reform to meet workforce challenges, GAO analyst says

Federal Workforce Challenges in the 21st Century (.pdf)

Federal agencies will have to transform their organizations to meet new and complex workforce hurdles in the coming years, a Government Accountability Office senior analyst said March 6.

In testimony submitted to the House Appropriations Committee's Financial Services and General Government Subcommittee, Christopher Mihm, GAO's managing director of strategic issues, said workforce management remains at high risk because the government still lacks a framework to advance workforce reform.

Mihm said agencies "don't always have the right people in the right jobs at the right time" to handle the burdens that an impending retirement wave and concomitant loss of leadership will impose in the near future.

Agencies also face a fiercely competitive market for talent, and their ability to hire top-flight employees is still hampered by lengthy hiring processes and in some vital occupations, uncompetitive salaries, he said.

In addition, Mihm said, agencies haven't created "a clear line of sight between individual effort and organizational results," which is necessary to transformation.

He added that the Office of Personnel Management, the government's workforce leader, must play a key role in helping agencies build the needed infrastructure to support their transformation efforts.

In recent years, OPM has taken commendable steps in this direction, becoming less of a rulemaker and enforcer and more of a consultant, toolmaker and strategic partner in supporting agencies' workforce efforts, he said.

In his statement, Mihm outlined four elements that are critical to a framework for successful workforce transformation:
  • Sustained leadership. Agency leaders must embrace reform and integrate the workforce function into their agencies' core planning and business processes.
  • Strategic workforce planning. The centerpiece of agency transformation efforts, strategic planning helps align an organization's workforce program with its mission goals and create long-term strategies for recruiting, motivating and retaining staff to achieve those goals.
  • Acquiring and developing talent. Agencies must streamline the hiring process and design innovative ways to compete with the private sector for talented employees.
  • Building a results-oriented culture. Agencies must build effective performance management systems to align individual and team performance with organizational results.

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