When you think about the Office of Personnel Management, or when you think about human resources, you don't necessarily think about IT. But if you ask Bernie Kluger, deputy performance improvement officer, IT is at the core of OPM's effort to transform how agencies manage their workforce: how they recruit, how they hire and how they manage.
And he'd know. Kluger came to OPM from a consulting practice where he led strategic planning and program management for the Interior Department's five-year program to centralize control of IT infrastructure and related capital planning. The result of that effort was projected savings of $500 million — a 20 percent reduction in cost. But as Kluger told Senior Reporter Carten Cordell, real IT transformation is about a whole lot more than cost savings.
OPM describes your position as driving the effective use of information technology in human resources. In a nutshell, what does that entail?
For me, information technology and human resources are closely linked. So much of what we do here at OPM is about the use of information to drive decision making, to drive policy-making. USAJOBS serves 100 percent of job applicants. Eighty percent of all federal job applications then go through USA Staffing, which is also managed here; I could go through the whole life cycle. In many ways, OPM is an information technology agency, and our use of data is crucial in how we do and make policy.
We had a Datapalooza in the White House about two years ago; these are very cool, innovative events where we bring together educators, we bring together academics, we bring together private and public sector — over 100 people in a room. We just think through the key challenges, these grand challenges of federal hiring.
I think more importantly what we do is connect the dots between those different systems, but also between the challenges that agencies are facing.
Can you offer an example?
So for example, we are working with an agency that does national security work. And when you go into their offices, it is hard to see the difference between the OPM employees and the employees of that agency working really closely together to manage a major hiring effort.
Using the statistical information analysis of what was working from that program, we were then able to go to another agency — a public land agency — that was facing very similar problems. But these are two agencies that you would never think to put together or even think of being in the same universe. One is national security and the other working on public lands — very different skill sets of their employees, but both involved in very high-volume hiring. A lot of temporary and seasonal hiring as well.
So we took some lessons learned and the statistical information that we developed, and used that to help develop a solution [for another] agency, to help them embed that information into their IT and then use USAJOBS in an incredibly new way so that they were able to, in the end, have a much higher quality of applicant. [That enabled] a much higher quality process and put really talented people into those public lands positions.
We are really excited about how we do that here at OPM.
We [also] had a Datapalooza in the White House about two years ago; these are very cool, innovative events where we bring together educators, we bring together academics, we bring together private and public sector—over 100 people in a room. We just think through the key challenges, these grand challenges of federal hiring.
We have heard a lot about shared services. What does shared services open up in terms of the human resources role?
Shared services had mostly focused on cost-savings, but that is really the smallest part of what makes it important. Back in 2004, OPM played the lead role in the creation of the shared services around payroll. So where we used to have dozens of services across the federal government providing payroll, we actually combined that together between 2004 and 2009 to just five payroll providers across the government. We ended up with better results; we ended up with lower costs. Cost is definitely a part of it, but what is much more important is how innovation gets to scale.
For shared services to be successful, [it needs to be] a driver of innovation, and scaling of that innovation across the government.
HERE ARE THE BONUS QUESTIONS
The administration has put a very strong purpose on IT and upgrading government services and the use of big data. What do you see, moving forward, in terms of IT for HR? What are excited about for the future?
The work we are doing around USAJOBS, where we are using the big data that we have in-house to improve the quality of hiring across the government — that's part of the president's hiring excellence effort. [With that in mind] we are looking at taking the entire employee life cycle — employee development, time and attendance management, employee performance management — and making those available as high-quality, centrally provided shared services. [We're finding] new ways of driving employee performance, new ways of managing employee time that could actually be disseminated across the government. Again, at lower cost and in a way that is more innovative, to bring it to scale so we can learn from each other.
I am very excited about that and what the new shared services mission is going to bring about. The president's budget for 2017 sets out a significant investment in replacement of legacy systems. And, unfortunately, many of our investments across the government right now are in legacy systems. What we will be able to do through shared services is make that investment once instead of doing it once for every single agency or bureau. So it is a much better use of tax dollars, but also gives us a result that can actually be more innovative in the end. That is what I am really excited about for the next administration and the team going forward.
The president has put a big focus on improving the IT structure. What kind of possibilities are you seeing for performance management in terms of the IT structure and the 2017 budget?
It's something we are trying to figure out: what's working and how do we do more of that, what's not working and how we do less of that. At the end of the day, that's it.
By working, that doesn't just mean compliance, but when somebody says they want to come into the government, how do we help them get in? How do we help them find the job that they want? How do we help them get there if they are not doing that? We are still meeting our compliance goals. We have to meet those goals, but it doesn't matter if we are not bringing talent in the seats. Now we have to figure out how to get USAJobs to the point where we can get talent like you for the first time.
I think there is enormous innovation in government. So when you look at the portfolio of federal investment, we have these big, hulking IT systems, these $100 million-type systems. Then we have lots of innovation happening at the very small level, but what we are not seeing is the connecting of those dots. But there are hundreds, if not thousands of really interesting, innovative things happening when we look at the data, when we look at the spending portfolio of the federal government, and I think the challenge of that is connecting them.
When a smaller agency develops new innovation, how do you communicate those ideas up the chain to try and scale them up across government?
The challenge is you don't unless you bring the people together in communication and you demonstrate commitment to actually making it happen. OPM plays that key catalyzing role. So what we did in the case of the Homeland Security agency is that we had been aware of the work that the agency had done, so then we were approached by another agency that had almost the identical problem [that the Homeland Security agency had addressed in hiring].
They would never have been in a room together — different agencies, different missions — but their hiring is very similar, which is a very distributed workforce all doing very similar jobs. One agency was doing centralized hiring, the other was doing massively centralized hiring and they were having trouble just filling seats. Not just bringing talent and diversity, but just getting seats full.
So what we did is we took those ideas and put together a cross-functional working team that included policy people, technology people and Lean Six Sigma Black Belts. We had everybody around the table and developed a pilot test where for an entire region every applicant for a specific kind of job, instead of applying to each of the literally hundred locations, [had] one application that we drove all of the traffic to. The result was less work, higher quality applicants, more new applicants than we had ever seen before and a demonstration that can help you take it across that entire agency. So that's where we can help support innovation here at OPM is connecting people. The last part is bringing it to scale, so making sure that approach gets baked into the big IT products that we put out there.
Innovation is obviously a big part of human resources in identifying talent, but it may not be the first place people look for it. Do you find that people don't realize the level of scope of innovation and creativity that comes into your realm?
So what I think I've been impressed with in my time during the service is level of innovation at every level of government from your smallest field offices up to Washington headquarters offices, there are people with great ideas and are able to take them to that first test stage. But what we haven't done well is helping them bring those to scale, that's where I think shared services is key. If you have a share services function that is going on constantly looking for innovation, that is farming and fielding innovation, then the exciting things happen, but you have to create a path for that.