Rep. Gerald E. Connolly, Chairman of the Subcommittee on Government Operations, held a hearing Wednesday to examine actions the federal government must take to recruit and retain the next generation of public servants.
During his opening statement, Chairman Connolly announced the introduction of the Building the Next Generation of Federal Employees Act (NextGenFeds Act), which would establish a comprehensive Federal Internship and Fellowship Center within the Office of Personnel Management to administer, manage, and promote all federal internship and fellowship programs. The NextGenFeds Act would help the federal government leverage internships to attract a qualified and diverse pool of candidates to the federal workforce and would create a pathway for interns to transition to full-time employment in public service.
“Government must reconsider the ways in which it will both attract and support individuals from all backgrounds – and provide them the appropriate career tools and training to grow to leaders within their organizations,” Chairman Connolly said in his opening statement.
The Subcommittee heard testimony from Mika J. Cross, a Federal Workplace Expert; Kenneth J. Thomas, National President of the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association; Michelle Amante, Vice President of Federal Workforce Programs, Partnership for Public Service; Meredith M. Lozar, Executive Director of Programs and Events for Hiring our Heroes, U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation; and Dr. Andrew G. Biggs, Senior Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.
Members and witnesses emphasized the federal government’s need to strengthen its recruitment and hiring policies, including the development of a robust internship program.
- “The federal government provides only 4,000 formal paid internships at any given time,” said Chairman Connolly. “And even those individuals struggle to move into federal service at the culmination of their internship. Meanwhile, the federal government’s private sector competitors offered jobs to approximately 96% of their interns in the last three years. Nearly all those who received offers, accepted.”
- Mr. Thomas explained, “The number of paid internships has drastically decreased since 2010. That leads to fewer opportunities to recruit the early-career talent that will be key in addressing the pending retirement wave and loss of institutional knowledge. That is why rejuvenating federal internships is a mission-critical task.”
Members and witnesses examined workplace culture and policy changes the federal government must consider in order to attract and retain employees, including more flexibility for telework and remote work.
- Ms. Lozar explained, “As a result of the pandemic, flexible and remote work schedules are increasingly noted as not just desires but needs among the workforce. The Covid-19 pandemic refuted previous beliefs that remote employees were less productive by demonstrating remote and flexible work schedules allow people to remain productive and work without being in a traditional brick-and-mortar office setting or working a traditional workday.”
- “You can strike the right balance between telecommuting and telework on the one hand, and continuing to provide high-quality, accessible, in-person services on the other hand,” said Rep. Sarbanes. “The private sector has long found that balance and I think, even though there’s a different dimension to the way the public sector has to reach out and touch our citizens across the country, that that balance can be struck there as well… Ms. Amante, how important is telework as a tool for recruiting younger workers to the federal government?”
- In response to questioning from Rep. Sarbanes, Ms. Amante said, “The more we learn about Generation Z, the more we know—even before the pandemic happened—that they seek flexibility. They seek flexibility in schedules; they seek flexibility in location. There’s a strong commitment to mission from this next generation coming up which, once again, is the silver lining for the federal government. And there’s no lack of productivity, it’s just that they are looking for flexible options. The positive coming out of this pandemic is that might be made available by the federal government on a permanent basis where it makes sense.”
Members and witnesses also discussed the importance of moving the federal government away from rigid and outdated processes and designing a workplace driven by mission and innovation.
- “Because of budget constraints, the federal government will always have a hard time competing with the private sector on pay, but agencies almost always have an advantage in offering employees a sense of mission,” explained Ms. Cross. “The federal government needs to do more to showcase the incredible array of professional opportunities it offers and to recognize the accomplishments and innovation of the current workforce.”
- Ms. Amante said, “The success of the federal workforce depends not only on the quality of its talent and its leaders, but also on a culture where employees are encouraged to try new ideas and make smart technology investments.”
Click here to read a one-pager of the Building the Next Generation of Federal Employees Act (NextGenFeds Act).
Click here to read the text of the Building the Next Generation of Federal Employees Act (NextGenFeds Act).