A Practical Roadmap for Transforming the Federal Workforce: A Forum Convened Just before the Election Explores Federal Human Capital Issues Facing the Obama Administration

By Trahant, Bill | The Public Manager, Winter 2008 | Go to article overview

A Practical Roadmap for Transforming the Federal Workforce: A Forum Convened Just before the Election Explores Federal Human Capital Issues Facing the Obama Administration


Trahant, Bill, The Public Manager


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As Barack Obama begins his historic presidency, it's time to shift away from the drama of the presidential campaign and look at how the forty-fourth president will actually govern. The new administration's success depends not just on the president's ability to articulate public policy, but also on his administration's ability to implement it at the department, agency, and program levels.

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To do so effectively, the president must work through the federal workforce to move his administration's agenda forward. Federal employees, after all, write regulations and guidelines, submit them for public comment, do all the staff' and programmatic work in agencies required to implement laws, and then implement policies, programs, and regulations on an operational level--where they affect everyday citizens on the street.

Federal employees have a critical (usually unsung and invisible) role to play as public administrators and servants. Put another way, the fate of public policy often rests on the government-issue steel desks of federal employees. As Bob Tobias, director of Public Sector Executive Education at American University puts it, "The crucial link between the articulation of public policy and its implementation is federal employee performance."

How then can you ensure that the federal workforce has all the skills it needs to meet the demands placed on it--by taxpayers and the new president and his administration? Equally important, how do you build an energized and engaged workforce, ready for the mission challenges that await it today and in the future? A November 7, 2008, article in Washingtonpost.com noted that at the end of the Bush administration, many federal employees felt demoralized and discouraged and were looking for invigorating leadership from a new administration to reengage at work.

Ensuring we have an energized and engaged federal workforce at the start of a new administration requires that we ask (and answer) some critical questions in the months ahead:

* What will the Obama administration do to ensure development and retention of a nimble, responsive twenty-first century federal workforce--one able to implement public policy and programs across all agencies and departments of government?

* What will it do to recruit a new generation of young people to federal service, those with the skills necessary to meet America's evolving defense, intelligence, and homeland security requirements and a variety of other agency mission challenges?

* How much priority will it give streamlining the federal hiring process and making the government an employer of first choice for more first-time job seekers?

* How can public policymakers, political appointees, and government executives all be encouraged to employ strategic human capital (HC) planning to build a modern workforce and plan for the government's future HC requirements?

These were just a few of the issues discussed at a special leadership forum held October 30, 2008, at the National Press Club, facilitated by American University's Institute for the Study of Public Policy Implementation and sponsored by the Government Consulting Services practice of Watson Wyatt.

The forum-which featured remarks by Howard Weizman, deputy director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM); Keith Nelson, assistant secretary for management at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD); and Doug Shulman, commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS)drew dozens of attendees from more than thirty federal agencies and organizations.

Federal HC Issues Transcend Politics

Although the forum was held before the 2008 presidential election, the attendees generally agreed that the HC issues facing the next administration would be the same regardless which party occupied the White House. Solving them, attendees said, was key in helping the new administration implement its own public policy agenda and restore widespread public trust in the efficacy of government to meet the needs of citizens. …

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