Workforce

Either Congress reforms the civil service, or Trump does it his way, senator warns

man planning layoffs 

Congress can work on a bipartisan basis to reform federal workforce rules or let change happen through executive action, Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) warned at a Feb. 9 hearing.

"Attrition through a hiring freeze may not be the optimal solution for creating an efficient and effective federal workforce," said Lankford, who chairs the Regulatory Affairs and Federal Management Subcommittee of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.  "Congress can either watch as the administration deals with the federal workforce through executive actions, or it can find consensus and work with the administration," Lankford said.

Senators from both sides of the aisle called for action to set federal managers up for success, and suggested improving outdated hiring practices, funding training programs for managers and providing agencies with greater budget certainty as possible solutions.

Lankford questioned the efficacy of the General Schedule system, but said that without a complete overhaul, improving the hiring process "is the most important" aspect, because getting the right person in the job at the beginning will lead to fewer "issues with firing and with oversight."

Former Assistant Deputy Chief of Staff for Manpower, Personnel and Services of the Air Force

Robert Corsi called for expanded use of direct hire authority to make on the spot hires, especially for critical positions like tech and cybersecurity specialists.

Ranking Member Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) said that part of the problem in the federal management system is that in order to advance up the pay scale, skilled specialists accept promotions to management positions they may not want or be qualified for, and they do not receive adequate training upon being promoted.

David Cox, president of the American Federation of Government Employees, said the problems facing federal executives are not due to a lack of legislation. Rather, he said that new managers need adequate time and funding for training.

Budget uncertainty, though seemingly a permanent fixture of life inside the federal bureaucracy, takes a toll as well, witnesses said. Since fiscal year 1977, Congress has passed appropriations bills on time only four times, resulting in governance by continuing resolution much of the time, according to a study by the Congressional Research Service.

Corsi said that managers have a difficult time planning their agency operations because they are "working on finalizing that next year's budget when [they] don't even have a budget for this year."

About the Author

Chase Gunter is a staff writer covering civilian agencies, workforce issues, health IT, open data and innovation.

Prior to joining FCW, Gunter reported for the C-Ville Weekly in Charlottesville, Va., and served as a college sports beat writer for the South Boston (Va.) News and Record. He started at FCW as an editorial fellow before joining the team full-time as a reporter.

Gunter is a graduate of the University of Virginia, where his emphases were English, history and media studies.

Click here for previous articles by Gunter, or connect with him on Twitter: @WChaseGunter

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