Agencies still struggle with workforce stewardship


A new Merit Systems Protection Board survey finds that many leaders fail to wisely manage limited resources.

Most federal employees believe their agencies maintain high standards of conduct and concern for the public interest, but leaders often fall short when it comes to decisions on how to most effectively use the workforce, according to a report by the Merit Systems Protection Board.

The newly released "Managing Public Employees in the Public Interest: Employee Perspectives on Merit Principles in Federal Workplaces" is based on responses to a recent MSPB survey of more than 42,000 federal employees. It focuses on how agencies manage resources and federal employees to meet agency missions and serve the public.

Many of the surveyed employees believe agency leaders need to improve their decision-making and communication skills with regard to agency priorities and invest accordingly to sustain a high-performing knowledge workforce. Stewardship was identified as needing more improvement in four areas in particular: eliminating unnecessary functions and positions, effectively addressing poor performance, retaining the best employees, and providing necessary training.

"Employees are being asked to make personal and professional sacrifices, and they need to feel confident that leaders are using limited resources wisely," said Susan Tsui Grundmann, MSPB's chairwoman. "That requires agency leaders to make tough choices about the programs, functions or positions that they can support. It also demands the foresight and courage to invest in the federal workforce so employees can perform at high levels and agencies can operate effectively as well as efficiently."

Although a majority of respondents said their organizations provide necessary training and resources, a large number of nonsupervisors -- ranging from 11 percent to 40 percent -- disagreed with that statement. In addition, only half of nonsupervisors said their organizations provide opportunities for growth and development.

The report cautions against cutting training for federal employees, noting that "a penny saved is not a penny earned if the saved penny is not invested wisely" and the right training could result in cost savings in the future by making employees more effective. Great leadership becomes particularly important in demanding times, said Julie Anderson, chief operating officer and managing director at Civitas Group. Leaders need to articulate a vision, set strategic priorities, make strategic choices, and oversee a process in which employees can understand and relate to the vision and priorities, she added.

"Federal leaders can inculcate a vision and strategic priorities throughout an organization by developing an agency strategic plan; translating the strategic plan into operating plans, which lay out activities, resources, budget and timeline to guide implementation of strategic goals; and aligning individual performance goals with organizational goals through performance standards and metrics," she said.

The report includes several recommendations for government leaders. Managers at all levels should be educated on their responsibilities with regard to the federal workforce under merit system principles. They should also be prepared to decide which programs need to be cut back or terminated in order to free up necessary resources. Finally, managers should not reduce employee training and career development opportunities in the interest of short-term savings but should instead focus on the agency's long-term capabilities.

About the Author

Camille Tuutti is a former FCW staff writer who covered federal oversight and the workforce.

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Reader comments

Fri, Feb 1, 2013

It is difficult for the non-federal world to understand the constraints that supervisors andfederal workers find themselves in the federal workplace. When budgets are not in place, there is no allotment for discresonary spending. When the manager has to decide on keeping the lights on to serve the public or send an individual to training, which would you rather the government accomplish? That's right - keeing services going. Until you fully understand the environment in which the average federal worker exists, you have no business assuming that you have the answers. As the federal workplace is all about politics, running the government like a business will always fail. We have a new executive vision every 4-8 years. This is not just at the top executive level, but at the department level and throughout the senior executive service. It does no service to the federal worker to compair us to the private secter. We are not the same. We have more rules to follow, as enacted by congress, which sometimes seem to conflict with one another or are vague. Talking heads only stir up trouble and make the federal worker who is trying their best in a fiscally and rules restricted evirnoment, look like a villian to "Joe the Plumber". Walk a mile in our shoes first before you start these inflamatory topics. Better yet,wr ightyour congressmen and ask them to pass the budget, enact bills that are in plain language, and that these bills actually serve their constituants instead of lobbyists.

Fri, Feb 1, 2013 Spencer Carter Jr Baltimore

Good Morning
The acquisition of FTEs will be difficult because of the hiring freeze and will require justification etc. taking more of a manager’s time and attention. . Budget constraints will limit the replacement of FTEs with contractors. Agencies will have to compete for FTEs not only with the private sector but also with other government agencies. Those agencies that have not embraced the newer technologies and ways of doing business will be at a disadvantage i.e. social media, bring your own device and working remote to name a few. If cost cutting starts to affect the retirement package of employees, you can expect an increase in retirements. If the private sector improves, you can expect some of the young just hired federal employees will leave for greener pastures. These young employees have seen that federal service is not secure. It should be an interesting and challenging future as agencies struggle with workforce stewardship.

Fri, Feb 1, 2013 Beltway Bill

Duh. Those in leadership positions made it there after decades of succeeding in a poor-leadership/management culture. To expect them to somehow change automatically when a new performance-based system is dropped in is crazy. It'll take years of training and a decade to flush out the old school and allow the trained, good managers/leaders to rise up. Govt moves very slow. Oh yeah.... even more fundamental is that you must be able to fire loser leaders & workers if you ever have a hope of improving. How can you possibly manage resources if you must keep the wasteful?

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