Issue Briefs

Following are key portions of a new OPM report laying out priorities for the federal workforce.

The Federal Government is responsible for fostering conditions that create prosperity and safety for the American people. The various Federal missions used to achieve these goals are largely executed by civil servants, who are employed on a full-time, part-time, or seasonal basis by the government and who play a critical role in helping Federal agencies achieve their missions now and into the future. For this reason, Federal leaders and managers must stay abreast of current workforce experiences and issues, while also planning and preparing for future trends. This report is designed to identify current and fu­ture actionable challenges, through research and analysis from both the private and public sectors, for use by strategic decision makers, managers, and employees of the Federal human capital community.




The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) began conducting research in 2015 to identify current and future workforce management challenges and opportunities. Information was collected on both the internal state of the Federal Government and the external environment.

First, the Administration’s initiatives to reshape the workforce and maximize employee per­formance served as the lens through which the results of research and analysis activities were viewed. Agencies have developed plans for these initiatives, including certain required activities, as part of their Agency Reform Plans and Fiscal Year (FY) 2019 Budget submissions. These plans have also been incorporated into other planning documents, such as Agency Strategic Plans and HCOPs.

A deeper look into the state of Federal workforce management included an analysis of the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey and Agency Priority Goals and a review of Inspector General manage­ment challenges and GAO High Risk List areas. Four survey questions were related to how agencies performed on their goals. They dealt with senior leaders generating high levels of motivation and commitment in the workforce (Q.53), employees being recognized for high quality products and services (Q.31), managers promoting communication among different work units (Q.58), and supervisors being committed to a workforce representative of all segments of society (Q.45). Among the reviewed documents, the top six to human capital management themes referenced were training and development, staffing levels, skills, hiring and recruitment, data and anal­ysis, and planning.

Lastly, a scan of the external environment identified four major trends affecting the workforce at-large. These included: (1) shifting generational demographics, (2) the digitally connected workforce, (3) incorporating employee health into the workplace, and (4) the evolving role of workers among automation.




Based upon the aforementioned research and findings, OPM identified six priorities in areas that, when addressed, should spur productivity and organizational success and that align with and support the Administration’s initiatives to reshape the workforce and maximize employee performance as outlined in the memo issued April 12, 2017, Comprehensive Plan for Reforming the Federal Government and Reducing the Federal Civilian Workforce.

Actions aligned with developing a long-term workforce reduction plan included using agency data to determine appropriate FTE (full time employee) baselines, examining the total personnel cost, review­ing and revising (as needed) organizational design and position structures, streamlining policy creation, reviewing positions as they become vacant, and keeping positions current.

Actions aligned with developing a plan to maximize employee performance included reviewing and updating formal agency policy, providing transparency around the performance improvement plan (PIP) process, ensuring managers and supporting human resources (HR) staff are appropriately trained, ensuring accountability in manager performance plans, and establishing real-time manager support mechanisms.

For this iteration of the identified priorities, agencies are asked to select two priorities that they will continue to support until the issuance of the next Federal Workforce Priorities Report in 2021. All supporting activities must remain in accordance with merit system principles and applicable law.

Priorities in the Context of Workforce Reshaping

Agencies have been asked to take immediate action to achieve near-term workforce cost savings and identify long-term staffing plans. This includes using various data sources to determine appropriate staffing levels; examining personnel costs; streamlining policy creation; and reviewing and possibly revising organizational design and position structures, including reviewing positions as they become vacant and taking technological advances into account. When planning and implementing workforce reshaping activities, it is critical to take steps to preserve institutional knowledge, keep organizations nimble enough to respond to evolving demands, and base workforce decisions on sound evidence. The first three priorities were designed to assist agencies with achieving these goals.


Priority 1: Succession Planning and Knowledge Transfer.

Conduct succession planning activities to retain and transfer institutional knowledge, as workforce reshaping efforts are undertaken.

Agencies should maintain a multi-faceted succession plan that is designed to capture the valuable knowledge and insights of current employees, convey captured knowledge to new and retained em­ployees, and create and utilize a multi-generational pipeline.

Priority 2: Deploying Communication Tools.

Adopt tools that allow employees to easily connect, communicate, and collaborate with one another regardless of geographic location.

For a geographically dispersed and agile workforce, communication and collaboration should be en­abled by technology and fostered by leadership. Enterprise social networks, in particular, can help facilitate organizational fluidity and resilience, by enhancing communication among employees and organizations. Enterprise social networks also help in streamlining knowledge capture and access, while fostering innovation and collaboration.

Priority 3: Securing Technological Solutions for Human Capital Analysis.

OPM will seek to acquire or develop enterprise technological solutions to assist the Federal human capital community with human capital analysis.

OPM will aim to provide tools for agencies that can fill gaps in current analytic capabilities to ultimately facilitate more informed and evidence-based planning and decision-making. This will complement agency reform plans, which call for better leveraging of technology to improve underlying business processes and the streamlining of mission support functions through efforts such as shared information technology (IT).

Priorities to Help Maximize Employee Performance


Pursuant to the Comprehensive Plan for Reforming the Federal Government and Reducing the Federal Civilian Workforce memo, agencies are establishing plans to maximize employee performance, includ­ing a specific set of required actions designed to help address conduct issues and poor performance. As those plans are implemented, agencies should also engage in efforts that assist productive employees with achieving even greater levels of performance. Enhancing productivity among all workers is espe­cially important among a streamlined workforce, so that organizational goals may continue to be met. Therefore, to complement the formal performance management activities included in agency plans, the last three priorities focus on efforts in other workforce management areas that may further spur productivity and encourage and sustain high performance.

Priority 4: Expanding Employee Development Opportunities.

Provide employees with ample opportunities for continuous professional growth and skill development.

Training and development are a means to sustain high performance during workforce reshaping. When employees’ duties are modified through reassignment, relocation, or increased workloads, it is impera­tive that they receive the proper training and development to address new and augmented assignments and acclimate to new environments and modes of operation.


Priority 5: Bolstering Employee Recognition Programs.

Administer robust programs to appropriately recognize and reward employees who demonstrate high levels of performance and significantly contribute to achieving or­ganizational goals.

Employee recognition programs encourage sustained excellence and productivity and help retain top talent, which becomes increasingly important as the workforce is streamlined. Recognizing high per­formers is highlighted in both the Office of Management and Budget’s (OMB) agency reform memo and OPM’s workforce reshaping guidance. It is a proactive and accountability-based practice that can help avoid performance problems and conduct issues.

Priority 6: Enhancing Productivity through a Focus on Employee Health.

Encourage employees to engage in physical fitness activities during time spent com­muting and being at work.

Increasingly, employers are engaged in helping employees become more active during work hours. People spend a large portion of their day at work, and there are various ways during this time that as­pects of physical fitness can be incorporated. The workplace benefits that employee health can provide, especially in light of the relatively low investment costs, can be a valuable tool for organizations that are called upon to do more with less.