The six weeks encompassing the federal shutdown at the beginning of the year was an abject lesson for all Americans about the value of federal employees.
Day after day, Americans saw first-hand a picture of federal employees – how our nation’s law enforcement, transportation system, food safety and so much more depends on professional, hardworking federal employees.
Now that the federal shutdown is in the rearview mirror, now is a good time to recommit the nation to doing what’s right for federal employees. We need to re-evaluate how the federal government recruits, hires and retains employees across the federal government and make sure that skilled employees drawn to public service are fully empowered.
Recruiting, hiring and retaining talent is always difficult but, in the federal government, it’s a nearly impossible task and has the potential to become more difficult as prospective federal workers witnessed the stress and hardships suffered by the current workforce during the shutdown.
Even without the shutdown, the federal government could do a better job of promoting employment, highlighting the mission-related work of the agencies, and how that need is now much greater. On-campus recruiting, outreach to prospective tech workers in their communities, and other new approaches could help. Also, changing the incentives structure — including signing bonuses — could help attract top talent.
However, once those candidates are identified or apply, the road to federal government employment is long and confusing, becoming an obstacle to many hopeful workers. It’s an 11-step process that actually seems even longer due to the nesting steps within those steps. It’s laden with cumbersome paperwork, improperly supported with antiquated technologies, and staffed insufficiently.
The Office of Personnel Management would like departments and agencies to recruit and hire people within 80 days of posting a position. However, it often takes well in excess of 180 days to do so.
So, how does the candidate feel when they apply and hear nothing from a department’s HR staff or a hiring manager for months? A large percentage of the most qualified applicants take other positions in that time.
Streamlining and automating the process — dedicating additional resources to the bottlenecks and introducing robotics — are among the actions agencies could take to accelerate the time to hire.
One of the challenges to finding top talent is pay. If federal employers want to attract the best and the brightest to government service, then the pay and benefits we provide people must be competitive.
College graduates can make much more in their entry-level jobs in most any private sector firm than they can in government. And the differential in pay is even greater at the mid- and top-career levels. How do you attract an experienced and seasoned executive to government when that individual could be taking a 33 to 66 percent pay cut?
It used to be said that the benefits – both while an employee and as a retiree – were sufficiently good to make up the pay differential, but that’s no longer true. It’s time for Congress to raise the pay scale within each of the GS levels, review the locality pay adjustments more often and consider alternative pay systems, such as pay-banding, that give managers greater flexibility in raising salaries and giving performance bonuses. These changes need to be codified, with pay keeping up with inflation.
With the impact of the shutdown still fresh in our minds, now is the time to support public service by bolstering the recruitment, hiring and retention of good, talented workers. The value of what the federal workforce brings to the nation each day is critical to each American. Strengthening our federal workforce will only make us stronger.