Academic journal article Public Personnel Management

Evaluating HR Management Strategies for Recruiting and Retaining IT Professionals in the U.S. Federal Government

Academic journal article Public Personnel Management

Evaluating HR Management Strategies for Recruiting and Retaining IT Professionals in the U.S. Federal Government

Article excerpt

Public personnel management scholarship and practice increasingly focus on creative human resources management (HRM) strategies for attracting and retaining employees with special skills and institutional knowledge, particularly in light of impending retirements. (1) To help federal agencies in these efforts, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) has relaxed some employment regulations and augmented agencies' tracking of attrition, retirements, and skills demands.

Some agencies face unique workforce demographic challenges, while others face shifts in missions or technologies. For example, in 1998, when Paul Barnes served as the associate commissioner for personnel for the Social Security Administration (SSA) in Washington, DC, he implemented an innovative program to rehire retirees to help train new hires in order to retain institutional knowledge and fill staffing needs. Also in 1998, Barnes said "OPM encouraged federal agencies to use two additional tools" to help recruit and retain information technology [IT] professionals to resolve Year 2000 conversion problems" (P. Barnes, telephone interview with author, December 19, 2003).

In a 2005 report for the IBM Center for the Business of Government titled The Blended Workforce: Maximizing Agency Agility through Nonstandard Work Arrangements, Thompson and Mastracci examined agencies throughout federal government, both in Washington and across the country, that have a mix of standard full-time full-year positions and nonstandard work arrangements. One of the key recommendations in the report is that agencies should implement "core-ring" workforce structures, where a core group of employees carry out mission-specific functions and another group of workers in nonstandard work arrangements (NSWAs) manage special projects and perform intermittent tasks and noncom functions.

Thompson and Mastracci noted that this idea was not new, writing, "In 1997, Donald Kettl, Patricia Ingraham, Ronald Sanders, and Connie Homer recommended that a similar 'core-ring' model be tried in government. The core-ring idea may have been ahead of its time in 1997. Political and other circumstances have changed sufficiently to warrant further exploration of this idea" (2005, 10). (2)

By 2005, however, federal agencies had experienced several changes that impacted their HR functions, including having greater exposure to business cycle fluctuations due to legislators' unwillingness to raise taxes, being under greater pressure from constituents to operate according to private sector efficiency principles, and facing greater competition from private sector employers for workers with unique skill sets. Federal government agencies, along with many employers throughout the economy, also had to respond to growing demands from employees to promote better work-life balance. For all of these reasons and more, public personnel management scholars and practitioners have taken a much closer look at creative HRM strategies.

A growing number of studies have examined federal personnel management approaches to fostering better work-life balance and addressing staffing shortfalls or skills needs through the use of NSWAs. Those studies have demonstrated the positive impact of creative HRM strategies on the ground. In this article, I build upon earlier research and test the effectiveness of NSWAs for attracting and retaining individuals with specific skills and institutional knowledge to federal government agencies, focusing particularly on IT professionals.

Leading up to Year 2000 computer conversions, IT skills were in great demand in the federal government. Using U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) micro-level data from 1999 to 2002, I evaluate the effectiveness of flexible work schedules, competitive pay, and prospects for full-time employment and job security. The results from likelihood estimation indicate that competitive pay and prospects for job security and advancement increase the likelihood that IT professionals will work in the federal government more than do flexible work schedules. …

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