HReinvented: Employee unions call for tweaks to the system

Friday - 4/9/2010, 6:42am EDT

WFED's Jason Miller

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By Jason Miller
Executive Editor
Federal News Radio

Two of the largest federal employee unions do not want the Office of Personnel Management to make major changes to the federal human resources processes.

And both the American Federation of Government Employees and the National Treasury Employees Union say they have made their positions clear with OPM director John Berry that the processes need to be improved and updated, but do not need to go through a major overhaul.

"Not everything that is done today is broken," says NTEU national president Colleen Kelley. "A lot of the processes do work and there are a lot of good intentions. NTEU has urged OPM not to assume everything needs to be eliminated and they don't need to start with blank piece of paper."

John Gage, AFGE national president, says several of the current HR processes work, but are too burdensome on managers and employees.

"The first thing is to realize we want to make the federal HR program a performance management system that is not a burden on employees and we need to delink it from appraisals and promotions," he says. "I have been working on this for long time and seen every new way to manage and assess employees, and none have stuck."

Both AFGE and NTEU say OPM needs to focus on two main areas: training and hiring.

Kelley says the current set of processes work, but it's how managers and employees are trained in the rules and regulations is the biggest problem.

"There is well founded fact that managers in federal agencies are not trained the way they need to be to implement these policies," she says. "They end up being responsible for delivery of the agency's mission, but the people part is lost. Look, the processes are designed to be fair and appropriate and in a lot of cases, they would work if they were implemented correctly."

Gage agrees that employee and manager training is underappreciated. He says AFGE would like to see all employees have the option to work their way toward an advance degree through agency courses.

"The training we do doesn't help employees' upward mobility," Gage says. "We could have routine training assessed for college credit and then essential courses needed for public administration degrees could be done online. We could be developing people in government for more senior type jobs. We are really missing out on that opportunity."

He adds that better training could lead to a concept AFGE is promoting, career ladders. This is where employees receive promotions based on meeting the standards of their job and as they gain experience, Gage says.

"Many agencies are built on standalone jobs," he says. "The job classification system needs a real look. It has to be more flexible, more versatile and updated. It still calls for secretaries to type so many words per minute and that is not how jobs are structured in the government anymore. The classifications could be made more flexible to allow managers to experiment with combining jobs and let employees qualify for promotion based on meeting the new jobs requirements. And promotions are what make the world go around for federal employees."

Kelley, however, doesn't think the General Schedule system needs to be altered too much. She, again, goes back to the implementation of this and all other processes.

"This should not be about changing processes just to change them," she says. "There may be some that need to be tweaked, but in general in most cases it's an implementation issue with exception of hiring. There does not seem to be one template for all agencies to move a candidate through the hiring process, including the background investigation and all other things that are needed. I think hiring is a process that most people agree needs to be looked at and probably changed."

Gage says AFGE supports OPM's direction of using resumes instead of knowledge, skills and abilities (KSA) essays.

AFGE also backs OPM's idea of adding new steps to the GS-system.

"Within grade steps could be about increasing the percentage of salary and making the criteria more strenuous to get it," Gage says. "I think most employees would work hard and rise to occasion if there is a real motivating reward there."

Kelley and Gage also believe the reward and recognition processes needs to be improved.

Kelley says too often agencies are not transparent enough about how and why they give bonuses. OPM wants to put a better reward system in place to help motivate employees.