Tracking feds' morale, changes to General Schedule part of 2015 budget plan

Monday - 3/10/2014, 2:08pm EDT

The Obama administration is calling on agencies to get smarter about tracking employee morale and engagement.

The administration plans to roll out an "engagement dashboard" this year that agency supervisors can use to track the mood of their workforces.

It's just one part of a planned overhaul of federal management called for in President Barack Obama's fiscal 2015 budget blueprint. Other initiatives include a revamp of the General Schedule personnel system, real-time performance reviews of management efforts and enhanced training for senior executives.

The Office of Management and Budget released a volume of supplementary budget materials, including more details on the Obama administration's workforce initiatives, Monday.

New tools for managers

The new employee-engagement dashboard will couple data from the Office of Personnel Management's Employee Viewpoint Survey with agency performance data to "provide actionable insights to target areas where improvement is needed the most," according to the budget documents.

The dashboard, which the administration aims to roll out later this year, will be accessible to supervisors as well as higher-level management

It's the latest move by OPM to get agencies to use the survey, which has been offered semi-annually since 2004, not just as a one-time barometer of employee sentiment but as a full-scale management tool.

Agencies are able to drill further down into the data than ever before. Instead of relying on broad-brush agencywide results, more managers can track data for their individual offices.

In 2011, OPM offered office-specific results to just 1,687 agency components. By 2013, that number had grown to more than 12,500.

"The increased response and reporting granularity enables agencies to identify areas of strength, offering possible models for others, and areas of weakness need­ing attention," the budget document states. "Agencies across Government are using EVS data to develop and implement targeted, mission-driven action plans to address identified challenges."

The administration is also planning an expansion of its HRStat review sessions.

Rather than compiling reams of documents tracking HR trends — such as the time it takes to onboard new hires or the number of workers eligible to retire — HRStat review sessions aim to allow managers to leverage that data for real-time decision-making.

In 2012, about a dozen agencies first started the platform in pilot status. This year, eight more agencies will join the pilot with governmentwide implementation to come next fiscal year.

Budget calls for SES, GS reforms

The administration's budget proposal also pledges to examine the onboarding and training of members of the Senior Executive Service (SES). The administration said it's concerned that the current hiring process for SES members may be inefficient and turning away potential applicants.

The budget proposal continued the Obama administration's call for an overhaul of the General Schedule personnel system.

Despite an evolving federal workforce, the personnel system "has not kept up and remains inflexible and outdated," the budget stated.

In recent years, OPM has instituted several new programs designed to build up new avenues to federal employment and fill skill gaps in the federal workforce, such as the Presidential Innovation Fellows program and the Pathways internship program.

"While recent hiring reform efforts are showing some progress in simplifying hiring, additional reforms are needed to update the hir­ing, pay, classification, and benefits systems," the budget stated.

Congress devised the GS system in 1949 and it was first implemented in 1951 — more than 60 years ago.

There's also interest on Capitol Hill in revising the GS system. Last spring, a bipartisan contingent of lawmakers on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee requested auditors at the Government Accountability Office examine the current system's failings.

Federal workforce in flux

The administration's calls for federal management reforms comes amid a federal workforce in flux.

Overall, the size of the federal civilian workforce compared to the U.S. population "has declined dramatically" over the past few decades and remains on a downswing, according to historical data provided in the budget.

The administration's budget is planning for modest staffing increases at most agencies over the next year. Among the largest increases are a more than 7 percent staffing boost to the Treasury Department — much of it for the Internal Revenue Service — and a nearly 12 percent boost to the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Federal work over the decades has also become increasingly more complex, the data shows, and federal employees are more likely to hold an advanced degree.

Nearly a quarter of the federal workforce has a master's degree or above, compared to less than 15 percent of private-sector workers.

Federal workers, as a group, are also older than their private-sector counterparts, averaging more than 45-years old compared 42 in the private sector.

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