Now more than ever, federal managers should be creating an environment where employees are compelled to collaborate and share innovative ideas, a senior administration official said Tuesday.
“We’re going to need to have strategies as managers,” said Dan Tangherlini, acting administrator at the General Services Administration. Speaking at the Federal Managers Association’s national convention in Washington, Tangherlini challenged managers to use existing resources, such as people and technology, to improve productivity and drive down costs.
“We are contending with a situation, which in my 22 years of service…is unique,” he said of the wide gap between federal spending and revenue, which has led to automatic budget cuts known as the sequester.
Tangherlini highlighted GSA’s Great Ideas Hunt as a means to pull innovative ideas from across the agency and engage employees at all levels. GSA generated more than 600 ideas last summer on improving agency efficiency, and more than 20,000 people commented on those ideas.
So far, five of those ideas have yielded $6 million in savings, including one to eliminate redundant surveys.
“We have to find ways to push people together and then find ways to get them to share their ideas,” he said. “And we can’t just do it episodically with something like the Great Ideas Hunt. Everyday should be a Great Ideas Hunt. Every office should be running a continual Great Ideas Hunt.”
The initiative coincided with an agencywide review, following revelations of lavish overspending at a 2010 conference inLas Vegas. Several GSA leaders, including the former administrator, were ousted.
Tangherlini said some employees initially feared consequences for pointing out areas of wasteful spending. Instead, those employees were praised for rooting out waste, he said.
“The other thing we said is this can’t be about monetary rewards,” he said. ”We should create an environment where people aren’t saving their great ideas for a cash transfer.”
For now, the administration has instructed agencies to stop giving out employee bonuses. As a result of the sequester, the Office of Management and Budget last week issued a memo telling agencies to only give out discretionary cash awards if they are legally required.
When asked by a federal manger about the use of monetary rewards to compensate employees, Tangherlini acknowledged that all managers would like to have those types of flexibilities but generating good ideas has to be focused more on the outcome rather than the reward.
At GSA, employees became convinced that sharing good ideas would lead to more efficient work, a restored reputation for GSA and more business. “We tapped into a well of frustration at GSA,” Tangherlini said.
Agencies have four months to develop or modify policies addressing the effects of domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking on their respective workforces, according to a Feb. 8 Office of Personnel Management memo.
Agencies will then submit the policies to OPM for review and will be required to issue a final policy within six months.
“The guidance is designed to give agencies the flexibility to tailor their own individual policies to specific agency practices and culture,” OPM director John Berry said in a memo.
From the memo:
To assist agencies in developing their policies over the next several months OPM, in partnership with the Department of Justice (DOJ) and HHS, will offer a series of webinars. Topics will include the impact of domestic and sexual violence on the workplace, the role of employers when responding to domestic violence, sexual assault and/or stalking in the workplace, and the critical components of a workplace response.
There was some noteworthy news out of the judiciary today: the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit has thrown out a three-judge panel’s decision from last year that would curtail federal employees’ ability to challenge agencies’ decisions on suitability to hold certain national security jobs. Instead, the full court of about 15 judges will rehear the case, with the first round of briefs due in early March, according to the four-page order.
As Federal Times reported last year, the case dates back to 2009 when Defense Department agencies barred two employees–one a GS-5, the other a GS-7–from jobs involving access to “sensitive” information. The two sought recourse from the Merit Systems Protection Board, which is charged with hearing appeals of employee firings and other disciplinary measures. But in its 2-1 ruling last August, the appellate panel applied the logic of a 1988 Supreme Court decision that gave deference to agencies when deciding who deserved a security clearance and essentially stripped the MSPB of its ability to take appeals of clearance denials. The same was true for workers who hold “sensitive” positions, even if those jobs don’t involve access to classified information, the panel ruled last year.
In today’s ruling, however, the court signaled its interest in exploring that issue. Among the questions that it wants lawyers on both sides (the Office of Personnel Management is representing the government) to address: “What problems, if any, would the MSPB encounter in determining adverse action appeals for employees holding ‘sensitive’ positions, not requiring a security clearance; to what extent should the agency defer to the agency’s judgment on issues of national security in resolving such adverse action appeals?”
If the government ultimately prevails, federal employee unions and whistleblower advocacy groups worry that the repercussions could go well beyond DoD because agencies not normally considered part of the national security establishment–such as Customs and Border Protection–are making greater use of “sensitive” positions.
But the denouement could be some time off. Kevin Owen, an attorney who practices before the MSPB but is not involved in this case, expected a ruling by the full appellate court some time late this summer. And whichever way the majority goes, “I don’t think it’s going to be the end of the discussion,” Owen said in an interview, with the losing side likely to appeal to the Supreme Court.
[This post has been updated.]
About three years ago, Congress granted agencies wide authority to rehire federal retirees and pay them both their full pensions as well as their full salaries. But the Government Accountability Office today released a report that found six federal agencies are barely using the so-called dual compensation waiver authority at all.
GAO looked at how many waivers were granted by the Treasury Department, Office of Personnel Management, U.S. Postal Service, U.S. Agency for International Development, Small Business Administration, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in fiscal 2010 and 2011. Those six agencies granted only 187 waivers in the first year, and 247 in the second year. That amounts to less than one thousandth of a percent of the more than 500,000 full-time employees at those agencies.
Treasury made the most use of the dual-comp waivers — 167 in 2010 and 214 in 2011 — mostly to hire former revenue agents to come back to the IRS and train younger agents. But the other five agencies only used them to rehire a handful of retirees each year, if at all.
Congress loosened the dual compensation requirements in October 2009 when it passed the 2010 National Defense Authorization Act. Previously, agencies had to get OPM’s permission to rehire retirees at their full pay. But the five-year pilot program allows agencies to offer such waivers on their own, as long as the number of rehired retirees don’t exceed 2.5 percent of the agency’s full-time workforce. And if the ranks of rehired retirees at an agency exceeds 1 percent of the workforce, the law also requires that agency to send Congress a report explaining why they need so many.
But of the six agencies GAO surveyed — OPM could not provide reliable information on waiver use throughout the entire government — none even came close to those thresholds.
NRC said in a letter to GAO that even though it used the authority extremely rarely — once in 2011 and not at all in 2010 — it still found it very useful when hiring that key employee. NRC said it hopes the authority will be extended beyond its 2014 expiration date, despite its lack of use.
“NRC appreciates the [dual compensation] flexibility … in order to fulfill functions critical to the mission of the agency,” NRC wrote. “We therefore hope that the authority will be extended.”
Most federal information technology executives are not involved in their department’s succession planning activities, according to a new workforce study.
The 25 IT executives included in the ACT-IAC (American Council for Technology and Industry Advisory Council) study said their agency’s succession planning program and human capital resource management strategy were either partially developed or poorly developed or non-existent. Seventy percent said they were not included in succession planning discussions.
None of the 16 human capital executives surveyed had metrics that measured whether their agency’s succession, skills and management needs were being met.
”The human capital practitioners felt as though they are delivering succession planning programs as they are required to do by the Office of Personnel Management,” Dr. Susan Grunin, who chairs the ACT-IAC group that commissioned the study, said in a statement. “However, one of the key results we found is that many IT operational managers are not aware these program[s] exist in their areas. If they are aware, many find them to be ineffective at producing managers capable of executing agency initiatives.”
Other findings include:
- Intra-agency succession planning does not happen uniformly across government.
- Internal communications in this area are often ineffective.
- Some agency IT operational managers develop and use their own internal succession planning processes.
However, NASA and Commerce Department were touted as having good succession planning structures that require senior officials to develop, maintain and operate human capital programs based on the agency’s goals and objectives. Both programs allow management at multiple levels to provide feedback.
In a TechAmerica CIO survey released in May, the IT trade organization found that 52 percent of CIOs do not have formal succession plans to replace retiring leaders and top managers. The consequence of not doing so could mean a downward spiral in IT leadership capability, according to TechAmerica.
In its study, ACT-IAC recommends that agencies:
- Publicize their management development and succession planning widely. NASA uses monthly reports, video-conferencing and intranet sites to get the word out.
- Include rotational assignments for their managers as part of succession planning.
- Train new agency leaders on the purpose and benefits of succession planning.
The study also recommends that OPM provide a virtual or in-person succession planning forum for agencies to learn best practices and updates on succession planning policies.
Are you a chronic smartphone or tablet user, who regularly checks emails and conducts business outside of normal work hours? Federal Times wants to hear from you.
How has this technology impacted your work-life balance? Are you a federal employee, manager or contractor, who knows when to power off, or are you struggling to keep personal and work issues separate? Please comment below or contact Nicole Blake Johnson at 703-750-8145 or email@example.com
Certain employee communications are protected by law. But does that mean everything else is fair game?
I’m curious to hear your thoughts on what is appropriate electronic monitoring and what you consider to be overreaching? Have you set personal restrictions for using your government computer in order to keep personal matters private and/or shielded from any sort of inadvertent or targeted monitoring?
You can comment below or contact me directly. Thanks.
The latest statistics on the federal workforce provide the strongest proof yet that government employment has peaked and is on its way down. USA Today reported that the federal workforce in April was down 11,600 employees from the same time last year.
This change shouldn’t come as much surprise — budgets are contracting, and many agencies have offered buyouts over the last year and a half to help deal with the tight fiscal environment. But Federal Times is wondering what this new reality means on the ground, for front-line workers who have to actually get the government’s work done.
Have you seen your office’s workforce contract over the last year or two? How has that affected you? Have you and your colleagues had to pick up duties that used to be done by departed workers? Are some duties that you’d like to get done falling between the cracks? Or have your supervisors decided to pull back and discontinue some missions?
We’d like to hear from you. E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like to talk. If you’d prefer to speak off the record, that’s fine.
The state of foreign language education in the United States remains abysmal, and is endangering the federal government’s ability to operate in a multinational world, a panel of senior government officials testified today.
Only 30 percent of American high school students and 8 percent of post-high school students are enrolled in a foreign language today, Eduardo Ochoa, the Education Department’s assistant secretary for postsecondary eduction, told the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs subcommittee on the federal workforce.
And foreign language education is getting worse, Ochoa said. In the 1960s, 17 percent of post-high school students were enrolled in a foreign language.
When you look at less-commonly taught languages — such as Dari and Pashto, which are the two major languages spoken in Afghanistan — the numbers grow even more dim. Only 1 percent of post-high school students are learning such rare languages.
Glen Nordin, who is the principal foreign language advisor for the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence, is especially frustrated that many government leaders are seemingly unaware of the gaps in their agencies’ foreign language capabilities — and how those holes are affecting their missions.
“The biggest difficulty we face … is that our leadership is as unaware of the needs for languages within their organizations as the general populace is failing to be aware of the needs for languages in their community,” Nordin said. “It is a national disgrace in that respect, and it’s that lack of knowledge that we need to correct. We need to find a way to communicate to our people just how important that interpreter/translator at the social services office is to a community’s well-being.”
And Tracey North, the deputy assistant director of the FBI’s intelligence directorate, pointed out that we don’t know what will be the government’s most pressing foreign language need 20 years down the line, which makes the shallow state of foreign language education even more frightening.
Her comments were a good reminder of how quickly the world — and the government’s critical skill needs — can change. After all, in 1981, the Cold War was still on and the CIA’s experts were still largely focused on translating Russian. Few would have predicted that two decades later, that focus would suddenly switch to Dari and Pashto.
Tags: foreign languages
Federal supervisors aren’t doing nearly enough to hold poor performers accountable — or keep them from ending up as poor performers in the first place, two chief human capital officers said today.
Reginald Wells of the Social Security Administration and Jeri Buchholz of NASA, speaking at Government Executive’s Excellence in Government conference, agreed that managers need to be more willing to take action when an employee isn’t cutting it. Maybe that means retraining that employee to get him up to snuff, Wells said, or punishing him. But a manager might only need to “call it as it is” and let the employee know he’s falling behind, Wells said.
But supervisors also need to look at themselves, and consider whether they’re managing the employee properly, Wells said:
Very often they end up poor performers because we fail them. We don’t engage them, or they get put on the back burner. There are all kinds of reasons why people become poor performers. We really do have to put an emphasis on how to reach them, give them an opportunity to cure, and if not, encourage them to want other careers or leave government. Because with things being so lean, the days of putting somebody on that back burner are gone. We need everybody engaged, and committed to the mission.
Buchholz said that while she thinks Congress needs to pass legislation making it easier for managers to hold poor performers accountable — though she didn’t say what that should be — she said managers already have many tools that they’re not using:
We have the ability to remove people under [Chapter] 75 actions for performance — we don’t do it. We have the ability to downgrade people, to get them into a job that they can do well. Never seen that in 30 years. So I think there are things that we could do that we’re not actually doing, and we should really contemplate.
But it all starts with better training of supervisors, Wells said.