USAID looks to tech, automation for HR service delivery

The agency's chief human capital officer explains how necessity drove the adoption of a more automated HR workflow to serve its far-flung employees.

USAID HQ Washington DC Editorial credit: Jer123 / Shutterstock.com

USAID Headquarters, Washington, D.C. (Photo credit: Jer123/Shutterstock.com)

The U.S. Agency for International Development is getting creative to address gaps in human resources service delivery to far-flung employees.

Faced with the daunting task of tracking employees stationed all over the globe, USAID created its own technology to automate mundane transactions to free up employees to address more complex issues.

Bob Leavitt, chief human capital officer at USAID, told FCW on the sidelines of the Presidential Rank Awards Leadership Summit that until two or three years ago, tasks like assigning Foreign Service officers to their posts was done via email and paper.

"Having the most basic technologies was a critical requirement for us to mitigate liabilities and financial risk due to the errors that we were generating," Leavitt said. "We had to reprocess how we designed our workflows and our processes to streamline them as much as we could."

Leavitt used a basic example of an employee getting married and needing to change her name as an example of what USAID did to automate certain HR transactions.

"If you go into the application for name change, you literally walk through that as if it's a Turbo Tax function," he said. "Ninety-five percent of [tasks like that] are absolutely automated until it gets to the HR professional that oversees everything, who approves or disapproves it."

Even though USAID is a midsized agency with over 10,000 employees, Leavitt told FCW this automation was critical as it faced issues related to understaffing.

"Our challenge was that we didn't have an opportunity to wait for a shared service or complete …100% off the shelf," he said. "We needed a new system now because our risks and liabilities were getting too high. We didn't have the bodies to do these basic functions. But now the staff that we have on board are doing higher value type of work than some of the very, very basic transactions of moving a data point from this system to that system."

The technology has proved so successful that it has drawn the attention of executive offices, according to Leavitt.

The Office of Management and Budget and the Office of Personnel Management "have looked at it quite favorably, what we're building," he said. "Before, we had such a weak track record of reforming ourselves, but now our next step is to work more with the five or so departments and agencies that are really toying with robotic process automation and applying that to automate more HR transactions."

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