Academic journal article The Public Manager

Human Capital-The Most Critical Asset: Past Efforts at the Federal Level Have Not Succeeded in Institutionalizing Long-Term Change in the Human Capital Function

Academic journal article The Public Manager

Human Capital-The Most Critical Asset: Past Efforts at the Federal Level Have Not Succeeded in Institutionalizing Long-Term Change in the Human Capital Function

Article excerpt

Since the comptroller general placed the management of human capital on the U.S. Government Accountability Office's list of high-risk programs in 1999, a series of legislative and policy initiatives have tried to recast the way federal agencies think about and perform the human capital function. Although many have been high profile, for the most part these efforts have not succeeded in redirecting the management of government's most critical asset, the people who perform its work.

New laws promoting the management of human capital--the Chief Human Capital Officers (CHCO) Act of 2002--and giving the Departments of Homeland Security (DHS) and Defense (DoD) the authority to establish new personnel systems have not succeeded:

* The CHCO Act offers no substantive context in which human capital programs should be established.

* The DHS legislation has been held up because of court decisions overturning methods the department used to establish its program (without proper consultation with employee unions).

* The DoD legislation (upheld on appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals and pending the filing of a union appeal to the Supreme Court) has only been implemented for a small minority of nonunion positions.

Both the DHS and DoD legislative efforts face congressional restrictions on further implementation in 2008 appropriations proposals.

President's Management Agenda

The current president has raised the management of human capital to a higher level by making it one of five initiatives in the President's Management Agenda (PMA). This initiative, overseen by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) in consultation with the US. Office of Management and Budget, establishes a framework for agencies in planning and executing their human capital programs and sets specific goals and time frames for their completion. From the latest published results (September 2007), sixteen of twenty-six agencies scored have received green scores for current status, and the others are yellow. Seven of the agencies rated yellow received green ratings for progress, two received yellow, and one red.

Substantial evidence indicates that compliance with the PMA has not reached the depth needed to sustain long-term change in organizations. Recent commentaries and roundtable discussions, as well as private conversations with leading human resources (HR) executives in the government, have led me to conclude that far too much emphasis has been placed on meeting current compliance requirements, and not enough has been placed on sustaining long-term, strategic change. The former is understandable emphasis on the PMA is very public and has taken substantial resources, if only to track, measure, and submit the necessary reports. The latter is unacceptable, and that eventually will become apparent as the federal human capital crisis continues unabated.

Leadership for change is not coming from the top presidential candidates either. The management of government does not make for good stump speeches or sound bites. The current campaign seems to be following trends set by Ronald Reagan, possibly even Richard Nixon. Overall, the candidates are all against "waste, fraud, and abuse" and to greater or lesser extents promise to take steps to reduce operating costs by reducing the cost of the federal payroll. Giuliani would have cut the workforce by 20 percent (mostly through attrition, which is a very risky approach as individuals and their skills often are not fungible); Clinton would cut the number of contractor employees by half a million (but does not provide any specifics).Who or what would fill the void caused by these reductions? More to the point, which skills would be lost, which must be renewed, and how would that be accomplished?

Several HR areas must be addressed in the near future. Among them are leadership and leadership development, sustaining leadership of programs as administrations change, recruitment and retention of vital talent, and remaking our HR management workforce. …

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