A Presidential Reform of HR

The winner of the upcoming presidential election should focus on federal HR reform in the areas of employee engagement, leadership development, acquisition reform, and performance accountability and data-driven decisions, according to a new report.

Monday, October 24, 2016
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One of the key areas ripe for reform by the next administration is federal human resources, according to a new report issued by Transitions in Governance 2016, a coalition of good-government groups that has spent the past year formulating recommendations for the new administration.

The report reflects a consensus, developed through a series of town hall dialogues with experts from within and outside the government, on ways the new administration can improve government operations. Areas addressed include employee engagement, leadership development, acquisition reform, and performance accountability and data-driven decisions, among others.

In the area of federal compensation, the group recommends some major changes, including replacing the General Schedule system with pay bands, tiers or new locality pay standards, and supports greater use of pay-for-performance. Under pay-for-performance, both financial and non-financial rewards would be encouraged, even though the report acknowledges that the political climate isn't favorable to bonuses for federal employees. The report also recommends using outside third-parties to validate bonuses, and encourages agencies to work with foundations interested in funding efforts to reward federal employees.

Employee engagement is encouraged as a tool for agency improvement, but "not as a compliance chore." Improving engagement would encompass training, employee feedback, and better communications to "improve the level of participation front line employees and managers have in the selection and use of performance measures." recommendations include:

* Expanding the current probationary period from one year to three to five years, and requiring a "proactive" certification by a manager that a probationary employee should be granted permanent status. Employees not certified by the end of the probationary period would be automatically terminated.

* Eliminating within-grade increases for time and tenure, and requiring a specific performance justification be made by an employee's supervisor.

* Increasing the use of existing hiring flexibilities "using proven programs" such as Presidential Innovation Fellows, Pathways Programs, and the Intergovernmental Personnel Act to hire private sector employees.

* Eliminating, or at least reforming, the Office of Personnel Management, in efforts to ensure that HR policies are driven by data, with less focus on process and more focus on outcomes. "The new Administration should not assume that OPM as it exists today is the right structure for the future of federal workforce management," the report said. "A solid Management Agenda should answer the question: What should be done with OPM?"

* Holding a coordinated, 90-day "recruitment surge" during the first six months of the new administration, to hire personnel in the areas of IT and acquisition. Agencies would work together to recruit personnel, and eligible candidates would be able to work for any federal department. The surge would be designed to attract the attention of the media and the public, and combine focused campaigns by recruiters with a streamlined web application portal. There would be a limit on the number of hires made during the special hiring period.

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*Changing federal benefit packages to make them more attractive to millennials. Studies indicate that millennials are not as interested in long-term pension plans that require staying in the government for 20 or 30 years. The report suggests looking at whether new hires should be allowed to opt out of the current federal employee benefits package and enroll in a defined contribution 401(k) account.

* Strengthening whistleblower protections.

* Creating a new job classification for program management with clear competency requirements.


The report emphasizes the importance of improving executive talent and leadership capabilities. One way to do so is ensuring that political appointees have some type of management background, rather than promoting technical experts with little leadership experience. The report also recommends establishing better performance plans for political appointees and senior executives, and holding them accountable for results. But at the same time, the report encourages the new administration to recognize the importance of the Senior Executive Service, by encouraging the new president to meet with SES members, and restoring SES bonus and public recognition programs.

To help new leaders get a running start on the goals of the new administration, the report calls for a strategic planning retreat for each agency, at which political appointees and career senior executives would meet early in the administration to identify policy goals, as well as how management reforms can help meet these goals.

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