Archuleta studying best ways to ensure OPM continues HR evolution

Thursday - 1/16/2014, 4:16am EST

Listen to Part 1 of Jason Miller's exclusive interview with Katherine Archuleta.

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Part 2 of Jason Miller's exclusive interview with Katherine Archuleta

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Katherine Archuleta has immersed herself in everything human resources over the last few months as the new director of the Office of Personnel Management.

Archuleta's goal is to both better understand OPM as an agency and OPM as a service provider to other departments.

"Over the last 2 1/2 months, I've had two town meetings and I am about ready to have my third town meeting. One was at Boyers, [Pa.] and the other was at the Theodore Roosevelt Building [OPM headquarters in Washington]," Archuleta said in an exclusive interview with Federal News Radio Wednesday.

"Both of those meetings have given me an opportunity to meet employees at both of those major parts of OPM. The other thing I've done is institute to my schedule, almost daily, phone calls to employees to just hear about how they are doing, what are their concerns, what makes them get up every morning to come to work and what do I need to do to keep them here. I've been trying to call four or five people every day, asking our employees what they think about those questions."

Photo courtesy of OPM

She said initially the employees were surprised by the calls, but over time employees have focused on her questions.

"I'm always just amazed at the conversation I have because I ask them a lot about their jobs, what do they like, what would they change about their jobs?" Archuleta said. "I'm just fascinated by the fact when I ask them about what gets them up in the morning, it comes down to a couple of things. It comes down to the fact they work for someone they really like and they like the work they are doing. Then I ask them what changes they would like to see in their jobs. They talk about the opportunity for training and to grow as a professional."

Archuleta, who was confirmed by the Senate Oct. 30, isn't just limiting her interactions to OPM employees. She's reached out to employee unions, associations and other groups to talk about ways they can better collaborate. Archuleta also is meeting with cabinet secretaries and agency leaders to figure out what OPM has to do to be a better human resources service provider.

"The cabinet secretaries talk to me about how do we untie the knots of personnel management and, having been in their seats or alongside their seats, it's very interesting to hear about how do we do the things we want to do with our employees and their perceptions about what either assists them or prevents them from doing so," she said. "We are talking to them about a toolkit. We do individualized service for them."

Getting the message out

Archuleta said OPM already has spoken with the Department of Labor and the General Services Administration about HR services. She said several other meetings are in the works in the coming months.

"We have a set of umbrella services, but it could be that the Department of Labor has a certain need that is different than GSA," she said. "We have the same services that are available to any of the departments, but we are listening to them and being as innovative as we can. When I talk about customizing, it's really within those set of services. Oftentimes, the department heads may not know exactly what we offer, so introducing them to some of the help we can offer them is an important part of what we do as well."

Archuleta continues to sort through her specific priorities. OPM is developing a new strategic plan that will highlight goals and priorities.

Over the last five years, OPM has been on a reform streak: hiring reforms, Senior Executive Service reforms, and fixing the retirement claims backlog.

For Archuleta, she is trying to fill big shoes left by John Berry, who many say was one of the most effective OPM directors in recent memory.

Berry left in April and in September became ambassador to Australia.

Archuleta said it's Berry's legacy as a champion of federal workers that she will continue to work hardest at during her tenure.

"My experience in three departments has already given me the insight into what an incredible group of employees exist in the federal workforce and I'm going to be a champion for them," she said. "I also think that at any point in the lifecycle of any department or agency is really how do we continue that continuous improvement that can be developed in any program that we offer. As I look at resume to retirement, I'm asking my staff to really look hard to evaluate how we can do things even better than perhaps we've done them before."

IT improvement plan due soon

One area Archuleta said she knows needs attention is OPM's IT infrastructure.

In her confirmation hearing, she promised to hire a chief technology officer who would develop a plan to improve the IT behind the processing of retirement claims.

Archuleta named Amen Mashariki as the CTO and Donna Seymour as the new chief information officer.

"We are taking very positive steps toward improving the IT infrastructure here at OPM," she said. "We are working on a plan that will be presented to me within 100 days of my coming on board. We are on track on that. I've seen the first glimpses of that and they are briefing me on their progress. I feel like we are looking at some issues we can solve near term, some that will take a little longer and some that are longer term."

Seymour and the employee services group are giving the USAJobs.gov portal a second look to make sure job seekers find a well constructed and efficient process.

"As we move into training and development, we will look at the SES and the training we are offering and how we can use IT to help us in those areas," she said. "We are working with our agency, but working very much with the White House and other departments, to think about what we do to improve the diversity of and inclusion of under-represented groups in the government."

She added the retirement services division will get its fair share of attention as well to ensure the backlog of claims doesn't grow and make sure annuitants are receiving good services.

Archuleta said OPM also has to be a model agency for others to emulate when it comes to meeting employee expectations and keeping morale up.

"The most important thing that I can do is make sure that the programs and agenda that both the President and I, as the manager here, have set forth are accomplished," she said. "I also think I'll look back and say, ‘How well did we do in terms of how employees feel about their work?' and lastly, ‘How does the public view the American federal employee?' All those things will be indicators."

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