Workforce

Why HR must adapt to rise of AI, tech

people standing on keyboard (Who is Danny/Shutterstock.com) 

Technology modernization, the rise of automation and the lack of significant change to the federal workforce presents a confluence of challenges in how government delivers services.

But the congressionally chartered National Academy for Public Administration is making the case the current system has "failed," tanking citizens' trust, and that a drastic adaptation to modern technologies and a new cadre of jobs is necessary and urgent.

The report, titled "No Time to Wait Part II," follows last year's call for civil service overhaul, this time making the case that government doesn't just risk inefficiency and bloated costs, but that it "would risk losing its ability to govern."

The two main differences from last year, said NAPA president and CEO Terry Gerton, are the focus on the changing nature of work and the need for automation and technological solutions, plus actionable details on "how to" implement these proposals to obviate the need for a "No Time to Wait Part III."

Gerton said while revisions to laws governing the federal workforce are needed, "moving away from specific job categories to talent management" and taking care of administrative reforms are "things we could do now."

In the short term, the report recommends creating a committee of agency chief human capital officers come up with a list of reforms that can be completed without legislation within a year.

These could include better use of existing authorities, said Don Kettl, a professor and former dean in the School of Public Policy at the University of Maryland. For example, when it comes to actually bringing people into government, Kettl made the case that many hiring authorities go unused, and the successes within some agencies should be replicated where feasible governmentwide.

Angela Bailey, chief human capital officer at the Department of Homeland Security, said her agency is hosting job fairs around the country, and these fairs -- and their uses of authorities in bringing attendees onboard -- has decreased time to hire by about six weeks, including for cyber and tech jobs.

Kettl said medium-term goals "would be trying to integrate human capital into the management of agencies."

Specifically, Gerton added, by empowering of human resources officials and "clearing some of the regulatory rubble," reforms such as moving away from hiring for job positions towards hiring for general skill sets will help bring in the right talent and "help drive that statutory change" for the long-term.

Where statutory change would be needed centers around center around general schedule classification and pay, public notice requirements about job vacancies, as well as reforms around veterans' preference.

On workforce policy, the Trump administration has proposed moving core OPM functions to the Office of Management and Budget and the General Services Administration, which will likely require congressional approval. And while the legislative fate of the reorganization plan remains up in the air, there are efforts to expand White House authority in structurally changing government.

Reps. Jody Hice (R-Ga.), Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) and Paul Mitchell (R-Mich.) are co-sponsoring a bill that allow the White House to reorganize, or outright abolish, agencies. On the Senate side, a pair of Republicans — Sens. Ron Johnson (R-Ohio) and James Lankford (R-Okla.) — also introduced legislation to expand the executive's authorities in reorganizing government.

Kettl said the positioning of HR in government is less important than whether it can take the lead on a "higher-level learning system" in training agencies and prioritizing lessons learned from across government, while preparing for an occupational landscape where tech, cyber and automation are prominent.

These sort of occupational shifts could be met with resistance from federal unions. Kettle said while he and the report's other authors have briefed OMB and OPM on the proposals, they had not yet done the same with the unions.

"Our hope is that they would look at the basic problem of the changing nature of work and understand that trying to protect jobs in the process of being transformed is not going to be a good long-term strategy for them," he said.

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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