CHCO survey: Federal hiring system hurts government

Tuesday - 8/17/2010, 4:43pm EDT

John Palguta, vice president for policy, Partnership for Public Service

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By Dorothy Ramienski
Internet Editor
Federal News Radio

The arcane federal hiring system is one of a host of problems facing the federal government and is preventing federal managers from hiring and retaining a talented workforce.

That was one of the findings in a new report, Closing the Gap: Seven Obstacles to a First-Class Federal Workforce, which examines hiring issues and offers some solutions for building and maintaining a high-quality federal workforce.

The report, issued by the Partnership for Public Service and Grant Thorton, says there are a number of longstanding, systemic and often dysfunctional practices and policies that are preventing the federal government from attracting the best and the brightest in federal service.

Federal Chief Human Capital Officers (CHCOs) face seven major obstacles seven major obstacles to building a first-class federal workforce:

  • hiring practices
  • pay, classification and performance management systems
  • the sometimes tense relationship between federal agencies and the central HR authority, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM)
  • the leadership capabilities of federal managers
  • the competency of HR workers
  • substandard HR information technology systems
  • labor relations

When it comes to the hiring system, the report says that an overwhelming number of CHCOs surveyed say that they support President Obama's efforts to reform the federal hiring system, but are worried that their staffs don't have the skills or competencies needed to succeed in the future:

The CHCOs believe that far too many of the 25,000 HR professionals in the federal workforce do not have the necessary skills to help their agencies transition to a new state of improved human resource operations and workforce management. In fact, they believe the situation may get worse with new demands and expectations driven by the administration's hiring reforms and other initiatives.

As one CHCO warned, "They want us to hire all these people, but HR itself does not have the skill set."

The report makes several recommendations about fixing this and other issues facing federal HR employees:

  • The government's much needed hiring reforms should focus on the end results, and departments and agencies should have considerable flexibility to determine how best to achieve those results
  • When "faster and better" are potentially competing goals for hiring and other reform efforts, the priority should be given to "better"
  • A greater investment is needed to improve the capabilities and competencies of federal managers and HR staffs-and to ensure those newly selected for these jobs have what it takes to succeed
  • The track record for federal pay reform is spotty at best, but the CHCOs are nearly unanimous in their conviction that the government must do better than the current system
  • The current leadership at OPM receives high marks from the CHCOs, but they see some internal "disconnects" within OPM and an opportunity for OPM to engage in "more assisting and less insisting"
  • The CHCOs and other HR leaders strongly support greater collaboration and sharing within the federal government and among other stakeholders in building a more effective federal workforce

The report was compiled from interviews with 68 CHCOs and HR leaders in the federal government.

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