JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — There are three changes and improvements that federal employees may begin to see in government workforce policy, Office of Personnel Management Director Jeff Pon told attendees at the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association conference Aug. 27.

According to Pon, he is working on ways to move paper-based systems to a digital format, modernize the civil service and create an environment where people speak out to thank federal employees for their service to the nation.

Pon demonstrated the slow technological pace of government operations by comparing his personal and government phones. The personal phone was filled with apps and communication methods that he said played an integral part in everyday life.

Then he held up his government-issued phone.

“Here’s my government phone … it’s a phone,” Pon said, explaining that the phone had only one app, OPM Alerts, installed. “Technology actually works on the outside, it doesn’t work on the inside.”

According to Pon, a movement to digital systems, particularly for federal benefits, will speed up an often frustratingly slow process for many feds and give them greater access to the details about their benefit and retirement plans.

Pon’s second objective, to modernize the civil service, has been a longstanding goal for the entire Trump administration, as it was featured in both the President’s Management Agenda and reorganization plan and looks likely to be one of the main focuses of the upcoming Government Effectiveness Advanced Research Center.

Finally, Pon said that he wanted federal employees to be recognized for the service they do for the country.

“How many people have ever said to you as a civil servant ‘thank you for your service?’” said Pon. “I want to say that to you today.”

He described a Navy SEAL he knew who was frequently thanked for his recent service in Benghazi and had a wife that had served in senior positions at the State Department for decades, making significant decisions for the nation’s foreign policy.

“They’re standing right next to each other, nobody’s ever telling her ‘Thank you for your service,’ ” said Pon. “I want to make sure that our Navy SEAL’s wife, a senior person in the Department of State, is told ‘Thank you for your service.’”

Pon also acknowledged the controversy caused by his May 2018 letter to House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., requesting the reduction or removal of a number of federal retirement benefits.

He said that while the changes requested in the letter were highly unlikely to happen, there did need to be alterations to the federal benefit system to make them more financially solvent and flexible for future generations.

Pon explained that the cost of federal healthcare has gone up six to seven percent per year, which takes money away from other OPM programs and initiatives.

“I want to make sure that for the next generation we’re taking a look at a different compensation plan,” said Pon.

He added that the federal government will also need to come up with a new retirement system that keeps current feds in the same system they already have while offering more flexibility to a new generation of feds that are less likely to stay in one job for an extended period of time.

“Most of them don’t see a 30-year career or a 20-year career,” said Pon. “I think the government has to actually adapt to that.”

Jessie Bur covers federal IT and management.

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