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Top federal occupations that could see high turnover in 2017

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Federal agencies may have a tough time holding on to their program managers come 2017.

A new Government Accountability Office report ranked program management as the occupational category with the highest percentage of employees eligible to retire by 2017. For mid-sized agencies like the General Services Administration, Housing and Urban Development Department and Office of Personnel Management, 56 percent of employees involved in program management will be eligible to retire in the next three years, the report found.

At larger agencies that number is nearly 44 percent.

As more employees become eligible to retire, GAO noted that occupations like program management may face significantly higher turnover rates than others. For mid-sized agencies, here are the occupations with the highest percentage of employees eligible to retire by 2017:

1. Program Management

2. Secretary

3. General business and industry

4. Misc. clerk and assistant

5. General arts and information

6. General engineering

7. Misc. administration and program

8. Financial administration and program

9. Human resource management

10. Information technology management

For large agencies, custodial work and air traffic control topped the list of occupations with the highest number of employees who are approaching retirement. Read page 21 of the GAO report for more details.

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GAO denies protest of $4.6 billion DISA contract

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The Government Accountability Office on Monday denied a protest against Lockheed Martin’s $4.6 billion contract award to support the Pentagon’s global data network.

In its June protest to GAO, Science Applications International Corp. claimed that the Defense Information Systems Agency unreasonably evaluated Lockheed’s technical risk and costs, according to GAO. SAIC also said that DISA failed to meaningfully investigate whether Lockheed had unequal access to information pertaining to the contract, which would have been an organizational conflict of interest (OCI).

GAO determined that DISA’s evaluation of Lockheed’s proposal was “reasonable and consistent with [the] solicitation’s evaluation criteria,” Ralph White, GAO’s managing associate general counsel for procurement law, said in a statement. “GAO also concluded that the agency reasonably investigated Lockheed’s alleged OCI.”

Lawyers from both sides are working to release a public version of the decision.

“Lockheed Martin submitted an affordable and innovative solution, and we regard this as an opportunity to coordinate with DISA to improve the speed and efficiency of information exchange between our joint warfighters around the world as well as their commanders and allies,” Gerry Fasano, president of Lockheed Martin Information Systems & Global Solutions- Defense, said in a statement. “We have remained transition-ready throughout the protest period and look forward to beginning work on this critical mission.”

Lockheed Martin Corp. beat out incumbent SAIC to provide daily operations and sustainment of the Defense Department’s global data network. The contract has a ceiling of $4.6 billion over seven years — three base years and two two-year option years.

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GAO: Agencies rehire few retirees at full pay

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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.”

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GAO: Pay study accuracy is in the eye of the beholder

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There’s been a slew of reports issued over the last three years comparing federal employees’ pay and benefits to private sector workers, and they’ve all come to some radically differing conclusions. Which one is right?

Everyone, and no one, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office posted online Monday.

GAO spent the last year digging into six reports on federal pay, and concluded that they “varied because they used different approaches, methods and data.” For example:

  • The Congressional Budget Office, American Enterprise Institute, and Heritage Foundation all used a so-called “human capital approach” to compare federal and private data. This means they took into account personal attributes (such as education and job experience), demographic attributes (like race and gender), and other factors such as occupation, locality, and firm size. All three of these studies found feds were paid anywhere from 2 percent to 22 percent higher than private sector employees.
  • The President’s Pay Agent and the Project on Government Oversight used a “job-to-job” approach that, like the human capital approach, takes occupation and job level into account. They did not factor in personal attributes. The Pay Agent concluded feds are paid 24 percent lower than nonfederal workers (including state and local employees) and POGO found feds are paid 20 percent higher.
  • The Cato Institute conducted a “trend analysis” that did not control for any attributes and looked only at broader pay trends over time. Cato found feds’ pay is 58 percent higher than private sector employees pay.

Unsurprisingly, the authors of each study told GAO that their method was the most accurate way to compare pay. For example, the researchers who used the human capital approach said their method can best measure whether the government is overpaying or underpaying its employees, compared to what they would earn if they quit their federal jobs and looked for work in the private sector. But even the human capital researchers conceded that their method shouldn’t be used to set an individual’s rate of pay, since demographic attributes such as race and gender aren’t work related. (Just imagine the lawsuits if the government started paying certain employees less because other members of their race also earned less.)

GAO did not say that any of the studies were incorrect or faulty. But it did conclude that because they are so different, “comparing their results to help inform pay decisions is potentially problematic.” GAO also said that “given the different approaches of the selected studies, their findings should not be taken in isolation as the answer to how federal pay and total compensation compares to other sectors.”

Long story short, GAO’s conclusions don’t leave us any closer to settling the nagging pay gap question.

GAO also reiterated the Pay Agent’s “serious concerns” about the current method for setting pay under the General Schedule, which requires a single, across-the-board adjustment for all employees in each locality. This means that everybody — accountants, clerks, engineers, etc. — gets the same raise, even if the market for clerks grew softer that year while engineers became harder to find. The Pay Agent has called for the government to re-examine the method it uses to determine the federal-private pay gap.

And it notes that while President Obama called on Congress last September to create a commission to reform federal compensation and other personnel matters, “such a commission has not yet been established.”

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SAIC protests $4.6 billion DISA contract

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Science Applications International Corp. is protesting a $4.6 billion award to Lockheed Martin to support the Defense Information Systems Network.

The protest was filed June 22 with the Government Accountability Office. GAO will issue a decision on the protest by Oct. 1.

“We are disappointed in the government’s decision to not award us the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) Global Information Grid (GIG) Services Management (GSM) contract. We feel our solution is the best value for the customer and we are proud of our performance history on this contract,” SAIC spokeswoman Melissa Koskovich said in a statement.

Lockheed Martin Corp. beat out incumbent SAIC to provide daily operations and sustainment of the Defense Department’s global data network. The contract has a ceiling of $4.6 billion over seven years — three base years and two two-year option years.

SAIC’s current contract was awarded October 2001 and expires Sept. 30. The contract has one six-month option remaining through March 2013.

“We have a strong and agile team, and because of our high technical readiness levels, we feel we are the best choice to ensure secure global communication and information-sharing by providing provisioning, net operations and assurance, and network maintenance services on a worldwide basis, including support of the military’s global information grid. We look forward to working with this key defense customer to resolve this matter,” Koskovich said.

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SSA’s CIO overhaul lacked adequate planning, GAO says

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The Social Security Administration did not fully assess the impact of a major internal overhaul last June, which eliminated the chief information office and reassigned its functions, according to testimony from a Government Accountability Office official.
At the time, most of the responsibilities for managing information technology and the IT budget were reassigned to SSA’s Office of Systems. Two months later, then CIO Frank Baitman resigned. Kelly Croft, deputy commissioner for systems, assumed the CIO duties and oversight of those IT workers.
SSA Commissioner Michael Astrue said the effort would increase efficiency, but SSA did not develop a management plan that describes the challenges associated with the realignment or how to resolve them, time frames, resources, performance measures and accountability structures, according to written testimony from Valerie Melvin, GAO’s director of information management and technology resources issues. Melvin spoke on the issue at a House subcommittee hearing last week.
SSA also failed to analyze what roles and responsibilities were needed to support the new changes, Melvin said in her testimony.
She said the new structure should provide effective oversight and management of SSA’s systems and modernization if implemented properly, but it “cannot be determined whether the reassignment of staff that occurred as a result of the realignment represents an optimal allocation of resources.”

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Is telework increasing? Who knows?

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The federal government wants to increase the amount federal employees telework, and even passed a law to make it easier in December 2010.

But finding out whether that’s actually happening is tricky. Because the metrics used to measure telework are continually shifting, it’s probably going to be a few more years before we know whether things are actually improving, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office.

GAO said that for years, agencies have used different methods to collect telework data, leaving those statistics inconsistent and unreliable. After the 2010 Telework Enhancement Act was passed, the Office of Personnel Management sought to fix that problem by revising its 2011 “data call.” That revision sought to standardize definitions of key terms and reporting methods, added more questions to make the surveys more reliable, and shortened the time frame during which telework participation is measured.

But GAO said those changes mean that the data measured in September and October 2011 will be so different it can’t possibly be compared to prior years’ results.

What’s more, agencies are still increasing their use of automated data collection, GAO said, and OPM might change its survey methods even more before it starts collecting 2012 data. That means the 2011 data might be essentially worthless too, GAO said.

“OPM officials anticipate that telework data will be more reliable next year,” GAO said.

OPM told GAO that it would make it clear in its first mandated report to Congress this June that the 2011 data has its limitations and keep trying to improve data collection, as GAO recommended. But OPM also noted that data collection remains inadequate at the agency level, which it is trying to address through training.

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GAO: Communication key for successful IT programs

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When it comes to successfully executing major information technology acquisitions, consistent and open dialogue between program officials and stakeholders is key, according to a review of several federal IT programs.

The Government Accountability Office report identifies common factors shared by successful IT programs within government:

- Program officials are actively engaged with stakeholders.

- Program staff has the necessary knowledge and skills.

- Senior department and agency executives support the programs.

- End users and stakeholders are involved in the development of requirements.

- End users participate in testing of system functionality prior to formal end user acceptance testing.

- Government and contractor staff are stable and consistent.

- Program staff prioritizes requirements.

- Program officials maintain regular communication with the prime contractor.

- Programs receive sufficient funding.

Transportation Department’ Integrated Terminal Weather System, which provides weather information to 2,210 air traffic controllers and and flight support personnel, and the Department of Homeland Security’s Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative are among the seven IT investments included in the report. DHS’ Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative aids officials at ports of entry with inspections and has a total estimated lifecycle cost of $2 billion.


GAO: Federal IT budget far more than $79 billion

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A review of federal information technology investments found that agencies spend far more than the $79 billion reported on the government’s web-based IT tracking system, according to a report by the Government Accountability Office.

The IT Dashboard only provides investment data for 26 agencies, the report noted. The website does not include spending data for 61 other agencies, including the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Central Intelligence Agency and legislative and judicial branch agencies.

OMB encourages small agencies to use the IT Dashboard, but they choose not to, according to the GAO report released Wednesday.

While administration officials often quote $79 or $80 billion as the entire federal IT spend for fiscal 2011, GAO highlighted instances where agencies accounted for some IT systems in their overall IT budget but excluded others. GAO blamed the inconsistencies on the Office of Management and Budget’s murky guidance for how agencies should report IT investments and identify and categorize them.

OMB defines IT as any equipment used to automate various processes, such as acquisition and storage, or equipment used to receive and transmit data and information.

OMB officials said they give “agencies the flexibility to determine what to include as an IT investment, and agencies have chosen to interpret the definition of IT in different ways,” the report said.

“As a result, the nation’s actual annual investment in IT is much higher than the $78.8 billion identified by agencies” GAO said.

For example, in its IT budget submission to OMB the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration included only $181 million of the $382 million budget for its Joint Polar Satellite System and $215 million of the $690 million budgeted for its Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite-R series.

GAO said NOAA excluded “at least $676 million in IT-related development” on the IT Dashboard for the two systems.

Currently, the Dashboard tracks the performance and budget of for about 828 major IT investments and provides some details on more than 6,000 other IT investments.

GAO recommendations to OMB include: 

- Clarify its guidance to agencies for reporting IT investments and specify which systems should be included.

- Revise guidance to agencies for categorizing IT investments.

- Specify which executive branch agencies are accounted for when referring to federal IT spending.

OMB said the IT dashboard already clarifies which agencies are included in the $79 billion investment total and that existing guidance tells agencies how to identify IT investments. But OMB did agree that its guidance to agencies does not address key categories for IT investments like space systems and whether they should be accounted for.



UPDATE: GAO OKs 42 buyouts

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CORRECTION: GAO said the union published incorrect numbers in its newsletter. The actual number of buyouts has so far been 42, and another three early retirements. GAO said the program closes Sept. 20, and those numbers could change between now and then.

ORIGINAL POST: The Government Accountability Office has approved buyouts for 41 employees, and early retirements for another 5 employees.

The International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers Local 1921, also known as the GAO Employees Organization, listed the buyout and early out numbers in an e-mail newsletter sent to members this afternoon.

In an Aug. 8 memo to employees, GAO listed 56 positions — mostly management-level and other upper-level analysts and criminal investigators in bands IIB and III — that it hoped would accept the buyouts. GAO did not say how many early retirements it expected. Employees who were approved for a buyout or early out must leave by Sept. 30.

Tight budgets prompted GAO’s staffing cutbacks. In his Aug. 8 memo, Comptroller General Gene Dodaro said they “will help GAO adjust to our anticipated fiscal year 2012 budget while continuing to support our strategic plan and meet the needs of Congress.”

IFPTE’s newsletter also said GAO’s field office study team is scheduled to brief the agency’s executive committee on their initial findings Sept. 16. The team could recommend field office closures and layoffs as part of the first review of GAO’s field office structure in more than a decade. IFPTE said that before GAO management settles on any workforce restructuring because of the team’s findings, it is obligated to discuss alternatives with the union.

This continues government agencies’ ongoing trend of offering buyouts and early retirements to deal with tight budgets in the coming years.

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