Trump team looks to refine workforce messaging

As the Trump administration continues its push to reform the federal workforce, its top management and personnel officials want to change how their message is being received.

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As the Trump administration continues its push to reform the federal workforce amid staunch union opposition, the administration's top management and personnel officials want to change how their message is being received.

The White House's workforce-related actions and rhetoric have consistently met pushback from federal unions. The American Federal of Government Employees and the National Treasury Employees Union are suing the administration to block various aspects of recent workforce executive orders.

Margaret Weichert, the deputy director for management at the Office of Management and Budget, said most of the federal workforce wants changes to make it easier to get rid of poor performers.

"What employees tell us more than anything that they feel affects their ability to serve mission… are bad apples," she said a June 6 event hosted by Government Executive.

On the 2017 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey, Weichert said, the questions with the two highest percentage of negative responses concern performance-based pay and government's ability to deal with poor performers.

Michael Rigas, the Office of Personnel Management's deputy director, told FCW he believes the biggest misconception about the administration's stances towards the workforce has been "the emphasis on poor performers."

"That's certainly an initiative and effort that the administration is making, but I think that is overshadowing the administration's efforts to reward high performers and to attract high performers into the federal workforce," he said. "I think we just need to do a better job talking more about what those initiatives are."

Rigas pointed to the $1 billion workforce fund the White House proposed in its fiscal year 2019 budget, and added OPM is looking at flexibilities "for pay and performance to be able to attract, especially folks in critical fields like cyber and technology to enable the federal government to compete with the private sector at attracting talent."

However, workforce attrition and public rhetoric of "drain the swamp" have also created concerns among federal managers about their ability to attract and retain young talent, which is already a major challenge for federal agencies.

Chris Mihm, the managing director of strategic issues at the Government Accountability Office, pointed out the issue of "governmentwide" critical skills gaps has been on GAO's high-risk list "for a couple of decades now."

And while the Trump administration has requested $1 billion in fiscal year 2019 for that workforce fund to cover recruitment and performance bonuses, it also proposed a civilian pay freeze in fiscal year 2019, plus $143 billion in federal retirement cuts over the next 10 years.

In the short term, those sorts of budget constraints require agencies to make decisions about what gets cut. And in times of tight budgets, Department of Homeland Security Chief Human Capital Officer Angela Bailey pointed out, workforce training is historically the first thing to hit the chopping block.

"You fund what's important to you," she said, adding the shift to funding training and leadership development at DHS has been a "conscious effort." When it comes to "ensuring we invest in training," she said, "civilian agencies need to kind of get into that mindset."

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