CHCO panel: Fed careers still attractive

Friday - 7/29/2011, 2:18pm EDT

Federal Drive Discussion - CHCO Panel

Click here to listen to the interview with Michael Kane, chief human capital officer for the Energy Department, and Pat Tamburrino, deputy assistant secretary for civilian personnel policy at DoD.

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By Jack Moore
Federal News Radio

In the wake of the week-old FAA furlough, recent Congressional plans calling for pay freezes and cuts to benefits, and other high-profile attacks on the federal workforce, you'd think trying to attract and retain new employees would be nearly impossible.

But the agency-level chief human capital officers who sat down for Federal News Radio's panel discussion today had a more nuanced answer than that.

Michael Kane, chief human capital officer for the Energy Department, acknowledged the impact of recent events, but said the longterm stability of the federal workplace is strong. "We do have ups and downs just like industry," he said. "But we also have very challenging careers ... and one of the things that you can do in government is look at a longterm, stabilized career path," he said.

In fact, Pat Tamburrino, deputy assistant secretary for civilian personnel policy at the Defense Department, said federal careers are still "extraordinarily attractive."

"I don't know any industry where you can come and get the kind of challenges and work literally right out of college - sometimes right out of high school - and do the phenomenal things we do ... I don't think there's an issue with attracting anybody," he said

Part of the reason for the black-eye in media coverage has stemmed from the contention that it takes too long to hire and fire feds. But reforms enacted a little less than two years ago have made improvements, and the CHCOs on the panel had the numbers to back it up.

Tamburrino said DoD civilian hiring has decreased to 74 days, which is less than the Office of Personnel Management's goal of no more than 80 days. But he said DoD is branching out from just hiring reform. "What we're starting to look at is employment reform," Tamburrino said. "When I bring an employee into government, how do I take care of them over the entire lifecycle?" he described DoD's wide-angle approach.

Additionally, DoD has streamlined the application process down to a plain resume with a survey if appropriate, he said.

Before OPM issued its guidance on hiring reform, the Energy Department, which often hires very technical positions, struggled with a 174-day hiring time, Kane said. But most of it was "caught up in the mechanics," he added. The department has since reduced its time-to-hire to 86 days.

When it comes to firing, the CHCOs stressed not the numbers but the process. And in terms of removal, Tamburrino said it almost always comes down to the responsibility and duties of managers.

"I'm a big fan of the most simple thing in the world in the workplace," he said: "Supervisors have to talk to their employees [and] find out what's happening when performance falls off the center line."

Kane said it's important to realize that disciplinary procedures often operate out of view to protect employee privacy, but nevertheless a formal process does exist.

"A good leader looks at how people are developing and looks at how they are progressing," Kane added, "and gives them that formal feedback."

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