Issue Briefs

Following is the summary of the section of a recent GAO report on high-risk federal programs dealing with personnel management.



Why Area Is High Risk

GAO designated strategic human capital management as a high-risk area in 2001 because of the federal government’s long-standing lack of a consistent approach to human capital management. The area remains high risk because of a continuing need for a governmentwide framework to advance human capital reform. This framework is vital to avoid further fragmentation within the civil service, ensure management flexibility as appropriate, allow a reasonable degree of consistency, provide adequate safeguards, and maintain a level playing field among agencies competing for talent.


What Remains to Be Done

GAO has suggested that until a governmentwide framework to advance human capital reform is in place, agencies still need to take actions to help address the complex challenges. Specifically, (1) top agency leaders must commit to addressing human capital and related organizational transformation issues; (2) human capital planning efforts need to be fully integrated with mission and critical program goals; (3) continued efforts are needed to improve recruiting, hiring, professional development, and retention strategies, to ensure agencies have needed talent; and (4) organizational cultures need to promote high performance and accountability, empower and include employees in setting and accomplishing programmatic goals, and ensure diversity at all levels of the workforce.

What GAO Found


Congress and the executive branch have taken steps to address the federal government’s human capital shortfalls. For example, Congress provided agencies across the executive branch with additional human capital flexibilities, such as specific hiring authorities. The Office ofPersonnel Management (OPM) launched an 80-day hiring model to help speed up the hiring process and issued guidance on the use of hiring authorities and flexibilities. OPM has also helped agencies develop more strategic approaches to human capital management by putting a variety of tools and guidance on its Web site. While much progress has been made in the last few years to address human capital challenges, strategic human capital management is a critical element in 18 of 30 GAO high-risk areas—one of which is the state of the federal acquisition workforce, which has been experiencing an increasing workload and complexity of responsibilities without adequate attention to its size, skills and knowledge, and succession planning. Thus, ample opportunities continue to exist for agencies to improve their strategic human capital management in four key areas and for OPM’s continued leadership in fostering and guiding improvements in these areas. • Leadership: Top leadership in agencies across the federal government must provide committed and inspired attention needed to address human capital and related organizational transformation issues. • Strategic human capital planning: Strategic human capital planning that is integrated with broader organizational strategic planning is critical to ensuring agencies have the talent and skill mix they need to address their current and emerging human capital challenges, especially as the federal government faces a retirement wave. • Acquiring, developing, and retaining talent: Facedwith a workforce that is becoming more retirement eligible and finding gaps in talent, agencies need to strengthen their efforts and use of available flexibilities to acquire, develop, motivate, and retain talent. • Results-oriented organizational culture: Leading organizations create a clear linkage—"line of sight"—between individual performance and organizational success and, thus, transform their workplaces and cultures to be more results-oriented, customer-focused, collaborative, diverse, and inclusive. OPM and federal agencies should be held accountable for the ongoing monitoring and refinement of human capital approaches to recruit, hire, develop, motivate, and retain a capable and committed federal workforce. With continued commitment and strong leadership, the federal government can be an employer of choice.