OPM, OMB officials push major workforce changes

Just after proposing a series of changes to the federal workforce retirement system, administration personnel directors are looking at more changes to improve recruitment and hiring.

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Just after proposing a series of changes to the federal workforce retirement system, administration personnel directors are looking at more changes to improve recruitment and hiring.

At a May 9 event hosted by the Partnership for Public Service, Office of Personnel Management Director Jeff Pon pointed to the outmoded civil service and compensation structure as obstacles to achieving government's mission and in need of serious overhaul.

"The things we are going to be doing [are] going to be very aggressive," he said. "What I mean by that is we will have a legislative agenda where we hope to partner with our congressional members on some substantial change" and possible new authorities for the OPM director.

In a letter to House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), Pon pushed four changes aimed at cutting federal retirement benefits that "we're having a hardcore press on," he said, adding he sees them as "down-payments for the long-term and the future so we can start changing things incrementally and holistically."

"These are actually modest proposals," he said. "You should see some other conversations we will have in the future for restructuring the whole compensation for the federal government."

Pon hinted at what some of those could look like, many of them having to do with loosening  "laws and regulations we haven't changed in the last 40 years."

Specifically, he pointed to the need to get cybersecurity specialists and STEM skillsets into government, and "we're going to be making a big push" for agencies in need of tech, defense and intelligence "having a lot more hire authority."

Pon said the direct hire authority the Department of Homeland Security has been using "seems to be working," adding, "why wouldn't I have, as the director of OPM, the power to actually do that for the rest of government?"

Other authorities Pon said he'd like to see include allowing former feds who left civil service "to get rehired in the federal government noncompetitively after they've had a rotation in the private sector.

"We need to make sure we have, like, a G.I. bill for certain critical occupations and start getting partnerships with our colleges, universities and two-year vocational schools and having them come on board noncompetitively," he said. "We need to have more feeder systems into our federal government civil service."

Former NASA Administrator Charles Bolden noted that feeder systems "don't work when you have a hiring freeze."

"You can figure out all kinds of ways to make it look good, but if there's a feeder system, and people know they've got to wait years until somebody leaves the workforce before we can bring them in," that's going to deter recruitment, he said. "We've got to figure out a better way to do whatever it is we're trying to do without freezing hiring."

Margaret Weichert, the deputy director for management at the Office of Management and Budget, added the "places we're having the biggest difficulty in attracting talent are with millennials and with a much more mobile, agile, resilient workforce."

However, civilian-side budget cuts, workforce attrition and public rhetoric of "drain the swamp" -- combined with the proposed pay freeze and retirement cuts ­-- may pose challenges to attracting first-time public servants.

Given those factors, Weichert said that's why "it's critical we asked for the billion-dollar workforce fund in order to do incentives or recruiting and retaining the highest and best talent" outlined in the fiscal year 2019 budget request.

The areas with the largest pay gaps between public- and private-sector pay are in cybersecurity and data science, and the government's goal in making these changes is "not to punish and, obviously, not to be out of alignment with the market," she said.

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