Issue Briefs

Following is the executive summary of a new OPM report on “human capital reviews” it conducted last year with agencies government-wide.


The effective management of human capital, an agency’s most valuable resource, is essential for hiring, managing, training, rewarding, and retaining a high-performing workforce. To assist agencies, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) has created a roadmap starting with strategic planning through the Federal Workforce Priority Report (FWPR), implementation by way of the Human Capital Operating Plan (HCOP), monitoring progress through HRStat Reviews, and evaluating outcomes through the Independent Audit Program and Human Capital Reviews (HCRs).

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HCRs provide a mechanism for helping agencies determine whether their human capital management and programs support agency goals. The HCR is an annual data-driven review between agency leadership and OPM, focused on human capital results achieved. Agencies have an opportunity, during the HCR, to be candid about significant challenges experienced in achieving goals and provide OPM leadership with an understanding of how strategic human capital management is contributing to mission accomplishment. Through this objective dialogue, OPM identified common challenges faced by human capital leaders, as well as potential solutions that may be offered to resolve those challenges. OPM conducted HCRs with each of the 24 Chief Human Capital Officers (CHCO) agencies in the second quarter of fiscal year (FY) 19 and identified a number of significant trends.

Most agencies agree there is a need for pay systems that permit agencies to react more quickly to changes in labor markets for hot jobs, i.e., positions for which the demand is great, but that are difficult to fill because of the competition from private industry. In fact, most agencies consider the current General Schedule structure to be their single greatest obstacle when competing with the private sector for new talent and retaining high-performing employees, particularly in critical occupational areas, such as STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). To address this issue, a number of agencies plan to seek special rates for various positions, and some are reaching out to OPM about the feasibility of establishing a new occupational series for Data Scientists, a special area of expertise found in several occupational series. However, agencies also believe a more comprehensive redesign of the General Schedule is needed to better enable them to accomplish their missions.

While comprehensive workforce needs analyses are maturing within the Federal government, the process of identifying emerging needs is challenging. Consequently, most agencies are just beginning to make progress on skills gap assessment and mitigation. As mentioned above, recruitment and retention for hard-to-fill vacancies such as information technology (IT) and cybersecurity positions in particular, are concerns for many agencies. In addition, the long-standing government-wide gap in human resources (HR) expertise is a concern for some agencies as they struggle to keep up with employee recruitment, development, and retention. In response, agencies seek flexible recruiting and hiring options, such as social media platforms and high-tech assessment systems that help them identify exceptional applicants and narrow candidate pools to identify and hire the best applicants within reach more quickly.

Developing the current workforce is an area where agencies are investing strategically, from robust coaching and rotational assignment programs to certification programs, enterprise-wide micro learning sessions, and online career resource centers with self-assessments. Notwithstanding those efforts, government leaders still expressed difficulty closing skills gaps and creating bench strength. Significantly, most agencies do not have comprehensive succession plans for mission critical or hard-to-fill positions. Compounding that challenge is the need for fluid competencies to manage projects and work that is continually changing.

In working to achieve workforce efficiencies in line with the President’s Management Agenda (PMA), several agencies noted successful use of robotic process automation (RPA) and artificial intelligence (AI) in mission-critical areas. Agencies expressed excitement about the potential for RPA to handle repetitive transactional work that will free HR professionals and other occupations to focus their expertise and energy on more complex and enriching work. In addition, several agencies are moving to a shared services model by consolidating their HR, IT, and acquisition functions to streamline workforces and operations for better efficiency enabling them to dedicate more resources to mission-focused work.

Many agencies strive to implement effective performance management systems that link to organizational results, set high standards for success, and streamline multi-layer processes. Agencies have worked diligently to consolidate performance management systems across their components, and provide managers and supervisors new technological tools that make the performance management process easier, with less focus on transactions and paperwork for supervisors, and more opportunities for communication and transparency for employees. In order to capitalize on employee engagement efforts designed to improve organizational performance, most agencies report they carefully track Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (FEVS) results. Agencies use various approaches to communicate those results down to the lowest available work unit, and create dialogue with employees and supervisors to address concerns constructively.

Across the Federal sector, there is growing capacity for human capital analysis, but most agencies acknowledged there is much work ahead to utilize analytics sophisticated enough to be as predictive and prescriptive as desired. During the HCR discussions, agencies shared information on data-centered initiatives currently planned or just underway. Most agency leaders are tracking a significant amount of data; however, the struggle for many now is using the data strategically in a way that is meaningful. Specifically, decentralized agency cultures and non-standardized data collection methods significantly complicate the successful use of data in corporate-level decision making. Many agencies expressed a need for better tools to help manage data collection, analysis, and reporting. The process of modernizing and improving data collection and analysis is costly, and agencies are working to manage this challenge.

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