Streamlining the Federal Workforce: A Federal Human Resource Professional Shares His Prescription for What the New Administration Can Do to Improve Agency Service Delivery and Customer Responsiveness. (Article)
Winchell, Sr., T. E., The Public Manager
The Clinton administration attempted to improve federal agency service delivery and customer responsiveness. Yet the National Partnership for Reinventing Government (NPR) did not achieve its goals of decentralizing operations and delayering agency structures. The current White House chief of staff and Office of Management and Budget (OMB) have issued guidance to agencies emphasizing results this time around. This article begins with an overview of current reality. A list of potential barriers to effectively complying with recently issued OMB guidance follows. It concludes with a series of recommendations for meeting the president's mandate while addressing agency-unique requirements.
The Legacy of the NPR
On inauguration day, January 20, 2001, Andrew H. Card Jr., White House chief of staff, issued a White House memorandum on government hiring controls. The purpose of the controls was clearly articulated:
...during the campaign, the president expressed his desire to make government more responsive to the needs of citizens, more efficient, and more accountable. The president articulated his view of an effective federal government--one that is citizen-centered, results-oriented, and characterized by quality of service. To help meet these important goals, the president proposed, among other things, to flatten the federal hierarchy by redistributing positions and resources from high-level managerial positions to front-line, service delivery jobs.
The purpose of the hiring controls was targeted, focused, and unambiguous. Nor were they distinctly different in emphasis from the stated organizational design objectives of former Vice President Gore's NPR. The 1993 NPR report pledged the Clinton administration to increasing the ratio of managers to employees from 1:7 to 1:15. The 1:15 target was established as reflective of the private sector average and indicative of the assumption that private sector models could be applied to improve management of federal operations.
In 1994, Vice President Gore outlined his vision for establishing a more customer-focused federal government by dismantling strict hierarchies and emphasizing results. He envisioned an environment where employees were empowered to solve their customer's problems through practices that encouraged expanding and integrating organizational boundaries and encouraging direct communication by management with its front-line employees.
Between fiscal years (FY) 1992 and 1995, the pace of downsizing overall was ahead of the targets of the Workforce Restructuring Act. Yet supervisory positions in defense agencies decreased by only 0.8 percent and in non-defense agencies by 0.9 percent. Even these figures were misleading, since 19 of 24 agencies surveyed by the General Accounting Office acknowledged reducing their supervisory ratios by restructuring supervisory positions into nonsupervisors or team leaders.
According to the Office of Personnel Management's (OPM) most recent Fact Book, the percentage of supervisors and managers was 12.1 percent in 1989, 12.6 percent in 1992, 11.6 percent in 1995, and 11.1 percent in 1999. More troublesome is the fact that between 1994 and 1999 the number of GS-13 through GS-15 positions (i.e., the managerial ranks) continued to grow. There was a rather linear growth of GS-13 and GS-15 positions and a skewed path of GS-14 positions between 1986 and 1999 as depicted in Figure 1.
The total number of GS-13 through GS-15 positions increased from 228,565 in 1986 to 319,974 in 1999 (40 percent). From 1994 through 1999, the number increased from 315,424 to 319,974 (1.42 percent). The common wisdom is that the average grade of the federal workforce has steadily increased over the years due to automation of lower-graded clerical work and contracting out of disparate government operations. Neither successfully explains the growth of GS-13, 14, and 15 positions. …