Change, technology and the federal workforce

From using data intelligently to adjusting to a younger workforce to training with a purpose, experts analyze the near-future of government.

Complexity (Shutterstock image)

Change is constant, but the federal workforce might be getting more than its share lately, according to public- and private-sector leaders who spoke at the Excellence in Government Conference in Washington, D.C., on May 12.

Rapidly changing technology, the building wave of baby boomer retirements and the heightened expectation for the government to present a digital face to citizens are creating fresh challenges for federal workers.

Here is a sampling of the expert opinion offered at the conference, sponsored by Government Executive.

Digital get together

Former U.S. CTO Aneesh Chopra said that both the Presidential Innovative Fellows who produced the RFP-EZ procurement system and the system itself speak to what can happen when the public and private sectors put their heads together.

When the system was integrated with FedBizOpps, Chopra said, the number of people competing for contracts increased exponentially, with many people breaking into federal contracting work for the first time. The average cost decrease on the five initial projects was 30 percent.

Forward facing big data isn’t here yet

There is good reason for the constant buzz around government use of data. But the hype is going to take a little more time to bear fruit.

"To be able to use data in order to make management decisions and improve performance, we've got an awful long way to go," said Steve Goodrich, vice-chair of Government Transformation Initiative, a project of the Center for Organizational Excellence.

Goodrich said the information and analytics tools that could lead to data-driven governance just aren’t there yet. Still, data analytics used to peer into the future are on the mind of some in government.

"Having the data and just looking at it and constantly looking backwards as to how you were performing is useful," said Julie Blanks, director of the Civilian Expeditionary Workforce Program Office at the Defense Department. "But taking the data and being able to predict where you need to go and where you maybe need to shift your resources and actually be able to get your mission accomplished is I think far more valuable."

Accommodating millennials

Four generations are on the federal clock today, and as the millenials start edging out their elders, the desires and make-up of the workforce will shift.

But first there have to be enough newcomers in the pipeline who believe government is a worthy pursuit.

"Survey after survey shows our youth feeling not only the government is ineffective and unresponsive, but the public sector is not a place where they look to have a career or feel that they can make a difference," said David Moskovitz, chief executive for Accenture Federal Services.

Although there may be a perception gap from generation to generation, Moskovitz said, attracting millennials to federal service doesn’t require strobe lights and house music.

"To change the perception, we don't have to be cool or edgy in government. It doesn't have to have an 'i' or an 'e' in front of everything,” Moskovitz said. “It just needs to work."

GSA Administrator Dan Tangherlini said changing the nature of the workplace itself could help as well.

"They are speaking more and more loudly around the idea to have more open, transparent and collaborative space," Tangherlini said.

From training to learning

Mike Casey’s title at GSA -- chief learning officer – reflects what he says is necessary to produce an effective workforce for the future.

"One of the changes that we need to make is to stop thinking about training and start talking about learning and very quickly get to where what's really important, which is performance, becomes the center,” Casey said. Effective learning, he said, requires meaningful metrics to measure how you’re doing.

It’s also about knowing why the training is in place.

Al Tyree, director of business relations and learning solutions for Graduate School USA, said he’s seen the transformation to outcome-based training in government.

"It's been a dramatic shift from agencies just kind scrolling through our catalogue and pulling something off the shelf,” Tyree said. “Where appropriate, they're looking for us to ... be a consultant, to work with them collaboratively."

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