Finding the feds of the future

Lawmakers and experts say that hiring and management need improvement if the federal government is going to attract replacements for its aging workforce.

(Image by Stephen VanHorn/Shutterstock)
 

There's near-universal agreement that federal hiring processes are too slow and that the federal government needs to do a better job of attracting young workers. At a Sept. 25 hearing of the Government Operations Subcommittee of the House Oversight Committee, lawmakers asked witnesses how best to improve and retain workers for the future federal workforce.

Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) observed that one of the advantages the private sector often has over federal employees is paid family leave. Maloney is a sponsor of the Federal Employee Paid Leave Act, which if passed would grant eligible workers 12 weeks of paid time off for situations such as adoption or birth of a child, caring for a sick relative and other contingencies.

"For a country that talks about family values when you look at the policies we have in place, we are really far behind the rest of the world," Maloney said.

Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), chairman of the subcommittee, noted in his opening remarks that the federal government also needs to find a way to reach young people who aren't after a lifetime government job.

"A lot of young people these days may not want a 30- or 40-year career in public service," Connolly said. "The federal government must adapt to this new normal or it stands to miss out on a generation of talent."

Other barriers to hiring brought up in the meeting were competitive pay, maintaining a talent pipeline, job flexibility and outreach to potential employees.

"Agencies don't do a good job of promoting themselves," said Margot Conrad, the director for Federal Workforce Programs at the Partnership for Public Service. She noted that the USA Jobs website was particularly cumbersome for candidates between 18 and 34 years old, of whom 82% were likely to apply on a mobile device. She added that few agencies maintained relationships with colleges or universities to alert future graduates as to potential job opportunities, often failing to nab capable potential candidates before they had job offers from private sector companies in hand.

Conrad, the Heritage Foundation's Rachel Greszler and National Treasury Employee Union President Tony Reardon also pointed to government shutdowns and pay freezes as major deterrents for potential candidates.

"Few workers can last several weeks without pay," Reardon noted.

Robert Goldenkoff, director of strategic issues at the Government Accountability Office, added that some workplace flexibilities that were attractive to candidates such as telework are being rolled back.

"The ability to telework … is fundamental to the recruitment and retention of the next generation," he said.

Though adding incentives to attract potential candidates dominated the hearing, Greszler suggested that making it easier to fire problem employees was another potential solution.

"With 99.9% of all federal employees receiving pay raises, greater emphasis needs to be placed on truly performance-based raises," said Greszler. "The overwhelming majority of federal workers are hard workers, but the system shelters and even advances obstinate employees and sometimes those who don't do their jobs."

Reardon stated that the current administration's attitude toward labor rights in the workplace was a major factor in workers quitting or deterring potential workers.

"Treating employees fairly and making sure they have a voice in the workplace also significantly impacts recruitment and retention. Unfortunately, the current administration is attempting to undermine employee rights and eliminating opportunities for employees to share their ideas and raise issues," said Reardon. "Just yesterday I was here at the Capitol while hundreds of federal employees stood together to make their voices heard because they are fed up with their treatment in the workplace. They are simply asking for respect."

NEXT STORY: Senate passes stopgap funding bill

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