Federal government employment policies were designed generations ago. As a result, the government may struggle to compete for talented workers, which is one reason why federal human capital management is on the Government Accountability Office’s (GAO) High Risk list.
GAO said on September 25 that outmoded approaches to personnel functions such as job classification, pay, and performance management are hampering the ability of agencies to recruit, retain, and develop employees. At the same time, agency operations are being deeply affected by a set of evolving trends in federal work, including how work is done and the skills that employees need to accomplish agency missions.
Federal strategic human capital management was added to GAO’s list of high-risk government programs and operations in 2001. Although Congress, OPM, and individual agencies have made improvements since then, the watchdog says federal human capital management remains a high-risk area because mission-critical skills gaps within the federal workforce pose a high risk to the nation.
GAO defines the key trends affecting federal work as technological advances, increased reliance on non-federal partners, fiscal constraints, evolving mission requirements, and changing demographics and shifting attitudes to work.
Given these challenges and trends, GAO says federal agencies will need to apply talent management strategies such as the following:
Align human capital strategy with current and future mission requirements. Agencies need to identify the knowledge and skills necessary to respond to current and future demands. Key practices include identifying and assessing existing skills, competencies, and skills gaps.
Acquire and assign talent. To ensure the appropriate capacity exists to address evolving mission requirements, agencies can use internships, cultivate a diverse talent pipeline, highlight their respective missions, and recruit early in the school year.
Incentivize and compensate employees. While agencies may struggle to offer competitive pay in certain labor markets, they can leverage existing incentives that appeal to workers’ desire to set a schedule and to work in locations that provide work-life balance.
Engage employees. Engaged employees are more productive and less likely to leave, according to the Office of Personnel Management (OPM). Agencies can better ensure their employees are engaged by managing their performance, involving them in decisions, and providing staff development.