Feds urge the next president to communicate

Feds want the next president to communicate with nonpolitical agency employees and to quickly establish an agenda.

A group of federal employees, contractors, union representatives and workforce experts participated in a discussion held today by the Partnership for Public Service, and agreed that strong leadership and good two-way communication between Cabinet-level political appointees and career civilian feds are crucial.

“Federal employees are a cheap date,” said Ron Sanders, chief human capital officer at the Office of the Director for National Intelligence. “Do those things [and] we’ll follow you wherever you go.”

The purpose of the discussion was to analyze top management problems.

One of the major issues is the growing number of contractors in the government. Some participants said workforce systems in place make it difficult to attract and retain young employees. Sometimes agencies have needed to hire contractors to run essential agency processes, a development that alarmed some on the panel.

“We’re worried about [agencies] contracting out their brains,” said Scott Cameron, director at Grant Thornton.

Some saw reform of the General Schedule pay system as a possible solution, but the discussion evolved into a debate between union representatives and officials from the Defense Department and the Office and Management and Budget on the merits of pay-for-performance systems.

However, most agreed that getting agency employees to trust their managers to make decisions about how to rewards its employees fairly — performance pay or not — was the most important ingredient in retention.

The three major presidential candidates have weighed in on the government workforce. Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) promised to cut 500,000 contractor jobs, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) pledged to reorganize the workforce when the baby boomer retirement wave hits and Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) supports increased funding for workforce training and development.

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