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Federal workforce critical to president’s success

Oct. 28, 2012 - 02:35PM   |  
By JANICE R. LACHANCE and LINDA M. SPRINGER   |   Comments

Public servants make the diverse array of federal programs happen. Accordingly, addressing workforce challenges should be a priority, regardless of the outcome of the election.

Our collective experience as Office of Personnel Management directors, representing different administrations, led us to agree on four areas needing particular attention:

Sizing the workforce the right way. Much discussion about the size of the workforce is focused on numbers. How many? What percent? This perspective argues for arbitrary staffing adjustments that may be only loosely connected to mission realities.

In this approach, agencies are left to figure out how to fit responsibilities to predetermined staffing levels, regardless of whether the number of people makes sense.

We believe determining an appropriate workforce size begins with understanding the tasks that need to be performed. With that insight, required capabilities and experience, as well as the number of individuals needed, can be aligned for success.

If funding is limited, tasks should be re-evaluated, rather than trying to execute them on the cheap.

Making the federal government an employer of choice. For too long, civil servants have been derided in political campaigns and headlines and by late-night comics. Yet their work makes a positive difference in the lives of citizens, keeping them safe domestically and globally, administering direct services, and assuring the unhindered flow of commerce and information.

To attract the right people, the administration and Congress should acknowledge federal employees’ important work and promote it as a viable career option to a new generation and those seeking midcareer change.

Recruitment and on-boarding processes must continue to be streamlined, recruitment should be targeted and intensified, and pay and benefits should be set objectively and removed from the political process.

Having a workforce ready to meet future challenges. Advancements in technology, service delivery and access to information will continue to raise performance expectations for all types of organizations and their employees. For the federal government to keep pace, agencies will need to create and operate under a 21st-century workforce model.

This includes innovative approaches to issues such as career paths, worksite arrangements, training and compensation structures. Indentifying and embracing what is increasingly prevalent in other sectors will energize the workforce and improve the government’s ability to compete for talent. Having a workforce that is ready, able and willing to deliver services in a contemporary manner must be a priority.

Strengthening OPM. The merit-based civil service system strives to ensure competition for job openings and fair treatment in the workplace. OPM’s record as upholder of the merit system must be resourced at a level enabling it to continue governmentwide education and enforcement.

As civil servants are required to do more and different tasks, with ever-tighter resources, we believe OPM employees have the necessary expertise and experience to be critical players in identifying and implementing solutionsto these challenges.

These are but a few of the challenges the administration will face, yet how the federal workforce is staffed, compensated and motivated will determine how the government deals with increasing complexity and scarce resources.

While it will be tempting to push these issues to the background as more urgent matters surface, we join the National Academy of Public Administration and the American Society of Public Administration in their effort to elevate the government’s management agenda.

Our goal is two-fold: that whoever is elected next week understand the federal workforce is inextricably tied to his overall success; and, that enough progress be made in addressing these challenges that a similar op-ed isn’t needed four years from now.

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Janice R. Lachance and Linda M. Springer are former directors of the Office of Personnel Management — Lachance during the Clinton administration and Springer in the George W. Bush administration. Currently, Lachance is CEO of the Special Libraries Association, an international professional association for library and information professionals, and Springer is executive director of Ernst & Young LLP’s Government and Public Sector practice.

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