Federal Managers Respond to the Human Capital Crisis

By Whelan, Mary Lou | The Public Manager, September 2001 | Go to article overview

Federal Managers Respond to the Human Capital Crisis


Whelan, Mary Lou, The Public Manager


What can be done to assure a quality workforce in the future? How to rebuild one, and how to maintain it over time?

On April 2 and 3,2001, federal human resources professionals and program managers came together at a conference, "Workforce Quality: How to Build It, How to Keep It!!" to address the current state of the federal workforce. The Center for Human Resources Management (CHRM) of the National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA), the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB), the Senior Executive Association, and the Professional Managers Association co-sponsored this event. The primary objective of the conference was to examine the human capital issues of four major federal agency occupations--information technology, financial management, acquisition, and scientists and engineers--and to develop a specific plan for addressing those issues. This article outlines that plan of action.

Federal Human Capital: A System at Risk

The American public demands and is entitled to effective and efficient delivery of government services. The comptroller general has recently and very publicly recognized that the federal workforce, a critical component of meeting those demands, is a workforce in crisis. He has called attention to the human capital crisis by designating the current federal personnel system as being at high risk and insufficient to meet the competitive demands of today's economy and job market.

A report recently issued by Senator George V. Voinovich states:

The ultimate and most important goal is to improve federal government programs and delivery of services to the American people, and this can be accomplished most effectively by making wise investments in the employees who run the programs and know how to make them work. Congress and the executive branch must work together on a bipartisan basis to accomplish this goal. Identifying and refining the policies and practices that will lead to better workforce management will also demand communication and cooperation among all interested stakeholders.

Conference Focus

At the conference, nearly 300 federal program managers and human resources leaders came together to discuss how to build and how to keep a quality workforce and develop a plan to address the central issues of recruiting, developing, and retaining a high quality and diverse workforce. The conference was a blend of:

* plenary session presentations on the conference theme with presentations from key officials in the public and private sectors and from academia; and

* a series of workshop tracks that focused on the issues and solutions to quality workforce management problems in the information technology, financial management, acquisition, and scientist and engineer occupations.

Conference Highlights

Highlights from the plenary session speakers included:

* Some of you may have heard Comptroller General David Walker say that between 80 and 90 percent of the actions that need to be taken to address our human capital needs can be done within the context of current law. In general, I agree...we should [also] examine what new flexibilities or changes are needed. I do intend to put together a legislative package later this year, but at this point, I cannot characterize how ambitious it might be. (Senator Voinovich)

* If we are heading into a period of reform, we must consider "public" service and governance. The future of merit and the preservation of public service are in jeopardy. The traditional make up of the civil service is becoming fragmented... The key is how to preserve what is best in a merit system without re-instituting the burdens of rules, regulations, and "bureaucracy." And how to preserve the best of a public ethic when much of today's government business is carried out by private sector contractors?... The issue of merit is fundamental even if efficiency and economy drive the work being performed. …

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Federal Managers Respond to the Human Capital Crisis
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