The Federal Workforce: What Improvements Can We Make Now?

We are constantly hearing about how the polarization in Congress is making it impossible for anything to get accomplished. Are there any issues that can be not only agreed upon by our officials but also acted upon and implemented? The National Academy of Public Administration and the American Society for Public Administration came together on this very question and a product of their efforts is a series of memos to our national leaders.   Dr. Rex Facer, Associate Professor of Public Finance and Management at the Romney Institute of Public Management, spoke with Chris Dorobek on the DorobekINSIDER program about the recommendations in these memos.  

Compensation Reform

  The current system: The Federal Salary Council makes a single recommendation on pay differentials and that wage change takes effect uniformly across the GS level.   The recommendation: Remove this uniform pay system and replace it with “targeted increases at different pay grades based on differences that exist at that grade level.” We need to provide incentives for highly skilled federal workers to stay in the government.  

Strengthening Recruitment and Selection

  The current problem: The “retirement tsunami” is fast approaching as the core workforce is aging. We have a slow hiring system and a culture in government that is averse to firing.   The recommendation: Enhance the role of the Office of Personnel Management so that they can be human resource reform leaders. This would help address the issue of “being able to hire people in a timely fashion” and “being able to get rid of people who aren’t performing and meeting the expectations of service.”  

Enhancing Training and Development

  The current situation: The first thing cut in agencies is their employee training. In the long run, these cuts are “shooting ourselves in the foot because we’re losing out on the innovation and creativity…that would allow us to provide services without making the kinds of painful cuts we’d otherwise have to do.”   The recommendation: Take training seriously. Reward employees for learning and trying new approaches. Make training part of the office culture.  

Strengthening Labor/Management Relationships

  The current status: Employee compensation and benefits are under increasing amounts of pressure from the budget and the state of our economy.   The recommendation: We need a discussion about wages, training, and incentives to come to the surface. Facer hopes labor and management will have conversations how to improve government on both the management and labor sides.  

The Take-Home Message

  Human resource issues effect the government across parties and departments, and therefore it is an area we can have some consensus on. The recommendations laid out in the memos are tangible and will have lasting positive impacts. “If people think government doesn’t work now, wait until we have a government that has less capacity and lower quality employees.”    
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