Fedweek

Efforts to improve HR services in federal agencies dating to the Clinton administration still have not achieved their goals, MSPB has said in a report mostly focusing on the services provided to managers and supervisors but with implications for rank and file employees, as well.

“The vision for federal HR since the 1990s has been that HR staff would become consultants and advisors instead of enforcers. Yet when we asked managers how effective their HR staff were as consultants, only 62% of managers thought their HR staffing specialist was effective in that capacity. During group interviews, many HR specialists stated that they had neither time nor resources to consult with managers on a regular basis,” it said.

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One of the strategies that agencies pursued was to centralize HR operations, in the process moving more HR personnel away from local sites. About a third of services are now provided onsite, a third within the commuting area and a third outside it, MSPB found, and “the HR staff we interviewed generally believed that their customers would be more satisfied with the service they provide if the HR staff were onsite.”

An MSPB survey of managers found that the highest level of satisfaction with HR services was with those onsite and the lowest with those outside the commuting area. It found a similar pattern regarding how positively those surveyed viewed HR overall.

Reform efforts also counted on improvements in technology to free up HR personnel from compliance-oriented to service-oriented roles and to allow for reductions overall, the report added. It said that the reductions were achieved—there was one HR staffer for every 40 employees in 1993 but now only one for every 48—but not the efficiencies.

“Generally, HR specialists believed that technology, although useful, has not transformed HR operations or their jobs as hoped,” MSPB said, citing the continuing need for “lower-level tasks such as processing personnel actions and data entry.” That factor, plus the lower HR staffing, has caused agencies to divert employees in other occupations to perform what MSPB called “shadow” HR duties including in recruiting and hiring.

Said MSPB, “agency leaders view the knowledge of their HR staffs more positively than they view their effectiveness. This suggests that poor HR outcomes may, in some cases, be the product of knowledgeable people working with outdated processes or policies. If so, policy-focused reform initiatives should indeed be part of the solution. Yet for every HR discipline, there is a small proportion of leaders who believe their supporting HR staffs are neither knowledgeable nor effective. These minority views should not be ignored.”

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Federal Manager’s Handbook, 5th Ed.