CHCOs say hiring specialists need new skills

Thursday - 8/19/2010, 7:10am EDT

WFED's Max Cacas

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By Max Cacas
Reporter
Federal News Radio

Every day, federal chief human capital officers strive to fulfill President Obama's goal of a "first class federal workforce." But increasingly, as a new report from the Partnership for Public Service shows, many of those CHCOs, while supporting that goal, also are anxious about having the resources that they need to fulfill that expectation.

The Partnership report, released yesterday, suggests that there are seven obstacles to improving the federal workforce as the President envisions. The report is based on the third in a series of interviews and questionnaires with CHCOs, conducted by the Partnership in conjunction with Grant Thornton.

One finding suggested a tension between CHCOs and the Office of Personnel Management, when it came to the subject of hiring, prompting moderator Scott Cameron, a former CHCO with the Interior Department and now a director with Grant Thornton, to ask the panel of CHCOs what one thing they would do if, given the opportunity, to improve the hiring process.

Jeff Neal, the chief human capital officer for the Homeland Security Department, said he wants more meaningful involvement from agency hiring managers.

"Too often over the last 30 years I've been observing it, hiring managers have decided that filling jobs is the work of HR," he said. "And they should lob their request over the transom to HR, HR should produce some magic list of people, they'll all be perfect, they'll all be hirable, and all of them will sail through security. And then they're disappointed when they don't get that."

Ray Limon, the CHCO with the Corporation for National and Community Services, a relatively small public-private agency that supports AmeriCorps and SeniorCorps, said that as a former OPM lawyer, onerous reporting requirements from OPM bother him.

"It is OPM that comes in on a weekly basis, it feels like, to large and small agencies for a new report, and I'm very sympathetic to OPM," Limon said. "They are very centralized, and they are the only game in town."

Limon asked that OPM give serious consideration to moderating the rate of requests for reports based on the current rate of return on many requests for immediate reporting.

Pat Adams, the Navy's deputy assistant secretary for civilian human resources, said she generally looks for HR specialists "who can connect the dots, who can do analysis and understand data, and do more strategy and more modeling," in helping Navy managers and command personnel hire the people they need.

DHS's Neal said he'd like to see HR staffers with more skills at problem solving and a customer-service focus on the agency's mission. To make his point, Neal recalled a recent meeting involving congressional staff and representatives from OPM.

In discussing his difficulties in hiring certain staff, an OPM representative said "the American people want to know there's a merit system, and that we're following merit system principles."

Neal counters that the American people care more about safety and security.

"I would like to see," Neal said, "OPM thinking that their mission is to support our mission. But I think sometimes they think their mission is to support the system and support the processes that OPM has built."

Neal said that that kind of focus leads to what he calls "a degree of insularity" that is not good in an agency like OPM.

A request for comment from Kathryn Medina, the executive director of CHCO Council, about the survey findings and the panel's comments was not answered.

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