Workforce Challenges Create A Mission Impossible for Gov?

"Workforce = mission. If you don’t have the right people it is a recipe for disaster," said Goldenkoff. But hiring and retaining top talent has been a big problem for government.

The Government Accountability Office looked at workforce challenges in their new report, "Recent Trends in Federal Civilian Employment and Compensation. Robert Goldenkoff is the Director of Strategic Issues at the GAO. Goldenkoff told Chris Dorobek on the DorobekINSIDER program that the GAO was asked to do the report because Congress wanted a clearer picture of the workforce to set the budget.

"We prepared this report at the request at the ranking member of the Senate budget committee. We did the report to help inform workforce planning and spending decisions. It goes without saying that the size and composition of the federal workforce has huge implications for federal spending as well as to the extent to which agencies can carry out their program goals. The challenge facing both Congress and agencies is to have the right mix of employees so that the government is able to deliver the high quality services that the taxpayers demand, but also within the budgetary realities of what the nation can afford," said Goldenkoff.

We would love to have the best people on the planet working for gov, but can we afford the best people on the planet?

"Proportionally there are more knowledge workers within the federal government than the private sector. The public sector is better educated and higher skills are needed. One of the key trends we found in our report was the growth in positions requiring high levels of skills and education. Professional and administrative positions such as doctors, scientists, lawyers, they went up between 2004-2012 by 25%," said Goldenhoff.

  • Key findings: "Between 2004 and 2012 the government went from about 1.9 million employees to 2.1 million employees. It was an increase of 260,000 employees. Or an increase of 14%. But if you peel away the layers, the vast majority of that growth, 94%, occurred in just three agencies; the Department of Defense, Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Homeland Security," said Goldenhoff.

Where was the growth?

"The additional growth was where you would expect to see it. The growth was to address urgent national priorities. Within the VA, most of that growth took place within the Veterans Health Administration, that was because there was an increase for services needed for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. For DHS, the increase went largely to border security. Within the DOD, it was among other things beefing up its cybersecurity and acquisition workforce," said Goldenhoff.

Compensation remained pretty flat?

"It is interesting to focus on where change occurred, but it is also interesting to focus on where change did not occur. One of those areas is compensation. There are lots of different ways you can look at compensation, even though the size of the federal workforce increased and the federal government was spending more money on compensation just because there was more money on the payroll, as a share of total discretionary spending it remained constant at about 14%. So compensation was not taking a larger bite proportionally of the federal budget," said Goldenkoff.

Tide towards a retirement tsunami?

"There is no question that we have an aging workforce. That is evident by the fact that in 2012, 14% of the workforce was eligible to retire and that is going to grow to around 30% in 2017. The factors that cause people to retire and make those decisions to stay and go are not really well understood. We have been forecasting this event for years and years now and the estimates really fluctuate. There are a lot of things that affect the decision to retire, everything from the state of the economy, peoples retirement accounts, whether you have kids in college, that argues for workforce planning and analytics that we have been talking about," said Goldenkoff.

What should agencies do?

"We need to hold agencies accountable for doing workforce planning, for managing their workforce properly, for making sure they have the personnel infrastructure in place to do the sort of account management that is needed to make sure that agencies have the right people in the right places at the right time," said Goldenkoff.




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