Berry aims to nix HR from high risk list in the next year

Thursday - 9/20/2012, 12:06pm EDT

Ruben Gomez, reporter, Federal News Radio

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Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry is aiming to get human capital management off the government's list of high risk programs by this time next year, and cyber bad guys might unwittingly help him do it.

"The bad guys are always changing their game. We need to change with them," Berry testified Wednesday in a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs hearing. "We need to always be at the top of our game, in that sense, from the federal government's perspective."

Cyber criminals should provide the impetus to close longstanding cybersecurity skills gaps in agencies, Berry said.

John Berry, director, Office of Personnel Management

The Government Accountability Office has listed human capital management as a high risk area for the past 11 years, partly because of the government's inability to recruit or train enough qualified cybersecurity professionals.

"We took the extraordinary step back in 2001 to designate strategic human capital management as a high risk area across the entire federal government," Comptroller General Gene Dodaro told lawmakers. "And the reason we did that was because a lack of leadership and attention" to mission-critical skills gaps in the federal workforce.

The gaps are closing

Dodaro said the tide is changing, and agencies are beginning to address longstanding issues.

"Congress has passed a number of significant pieces of legislation that have begun to focus on this very important area," he said. "Establishing …chief human capital officers in each federal department and agency, creating a council of them to work with [the Office of Management and Budget] and OPM in order to make sure that these issues get attention, granting greater workforce flexibilities in 2004, and most recently the telework legislation that passed."

To further address skills gaps, the CHCO Council created a task force to study the problem and find solutions.

"What they ended up doing is identifying five occupations and three competencies that are strategic in terms of the overall federal government. They impact every federal agency," Berry said.

In the occupations category, the task force singled out cybersecurity, HR, acquisition, program auditors and economists. It also listed jobs in science, technology, engineering and math.

"All of these areas are areas that we regularly have a hard time recruiting," Berry said.

The working group also identified three workforce competencies to address: strategic thinking, problem solving and data analysis.

Berry said OPM is trying to fill workforce skills gaps, in part, by using a governmentwide approach that involves colleges and universities. "We can't just expect that these skills are going to come to us," he said. "So we are going out and working with the universities, and working through the associations at the universities, to see if we can work with them to help make sure that the graduates they're putting out have these three key elements. "

OPM also is identifying mission-critical skills gaps that are unique to specific agencies — versus the whole government. Agencies must develop plans for filling the gaps via recruitment and retention, Berry said.

GAO's recommendations over the years have focused on three areas:

  • Effective planning to help OPM and other agencies understand the root causes of skills gaps;

  • Effective strategies for recruitment and retention on key skills, including assistance from OPM on hiring flexibilities;

  • Continuous monitoring of efforts to address skills gaps, to make sure remediation efforts are generating positive results.

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