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Leaders fear sequester's impact on recruitment, retention, service

May. 6, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
By STEPHEN LOSEY   |   Comments
Dan Tangherlini, acting head of the General Services Administration, says recruitment challenges will make it difficult for his agency to renew and revitalize its leadership ranks.
Dan Tangherlini, acting head of the General Services Administration, says recruitment challenges will make it difficult for his agency to renew and revitalize its leadership ranks. (Thomas Brown/Federal Times)

The constant drumbeat of bad news and poor morale in the government is hurting recruitment and retention of mid- and upper-level employees at the General Services Administration, acting administrator Dan Tangherlini said Monday.

“We still have many, many more people who want to come work for us than we have [entry-level] opportunities,” Tangherlini said at a Public Service Recognition Week town hall sponsored by the Partnership for Public Service. “It’s really in midlevel retention, and mid- and upper-level recruitment, where we have people saying, ‘I’m not sure I want to make those sacrifices.’ ”

Tangherlini said those recruitment challenges will make it difficult for his agency to renew and revitalize its leadership ranks.

“We need to make sure we keep those people going through, and continue to grow and have the opportunity to get experience,” Tangherlini said.

The challenges posed by the sequester’s budget cuts and ongoing bad news for federal employees — everything from furloughs to pay freezes to criticism that they are paid too much and do too little work — were discussed by panel members Tangherlini, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan, and acting Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Bob Perciasepe.

Perciasepe agreed that recruitment is challenging in the current environment, even though EPA has an active effort to try to attract talented graduates.

“All the [government morale survey] numbers are going down a bit,” Perciasepe said. “We think that’s from the constant drumbeat that there’s something wrong with public service. Nothing could be further from the truth.”

Napolitano said the sequester is the worst way to cut the budget, and she fears how it will affect DHS as the summer travel season approaches. She hopes her agency won’t have to furlough Customs and Border Protection officers, which would delay travelers entering the United States. But she said budget cuts won’t leave DHS as much flexibility to “surge” overtime for CBP and Transportation Security Administration officers to handle increases in travelers.

Donovan said the sequester will have many negative effects that aren’t as public as the recent furlough of air traffic controllers that delayed flights across the country, and spurred Congress to take quick action to avert those furloughs. For example, he said, HUD’s sequester will likely force 200,000 families out of homeless shelters.

“You couldn’t design a worse way to reduce costs” than the sequester, he said.

Perciasepe said processing of permits and inspections across the government have slowed due to the sequester. But he said federal employees are meeting that challenge.

“No matter how much chaos this throws into our normal order, public servants are rising to the occasion, even when their pay is being cut, to make sure some minimal amount of work is getting done,” Perciasepe said. “I think that’s one of the more remarkable stories.”

Donovan and Napolitano said they try to regularly visit employees in the field and listen to their problems as part of an effort to keep morale up.

And Tangherlini said he tries to emphasize to GSA employees how important the work they do is.

“It’s an honor,” Tangherlini said. “It’s something that is incredibly motivating in and of itself. If you listen to the very negative rhetoric, you can begin to believe it or internalize it, or become a little more shy about saying that you are actually committing yourself to something bigger than yourself. You’re committing yourself to something as important as your nation. I think people need to be reminded of that from time to time.”

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