By Ann Boehm, April 20, 2021
A mere two years ago, a move was afoot to abolish the Office of Personnel Management. You know, OPM – the entity created by the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978 that “serves as the chief human resources agency and personnel policy manager for the Federal Government.”
At the time, I wrote an article suggesting that abolishing OPM might not be a bad thing. I reflected on a time, early in my career in the 1990s, where one could call OPM experts and get outstanding advice. And I reflected on how that greatly changed by the end of my career in 2018. OPM stopped being the go-to entity for Federal personnel advice, particularly in the area of hiring federal employees.
Not to bore those of you who read the article then, but my anecdote is worth mentioning again.
I could not fill an Employee Relations Specialist position. Two years of advertising the position resulted in no hires. I went to OPM’s website to see if there was anything there that could help me. The website highlighted OPM’s hiring reform concept. I was prepared to be the manager who could be creative and hire more effectively.
I wrote an email to the address on OPM’s website. Instead of getting some legitimate guidance from OPM, the OPM contact forwarded my email to the Human Resources Director for my agency and indicated that I needed help. I was mortified. What OPM did not only failed to help me, but also embarrassed me with my agency, just for trying to think outside the box.
In 2019, the Trump Administration proposed moving OPM to the General Services Administration and the Office of Management and Budget. Congress placed that action on hold and commissioned a study by the National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA) on the wisdom of this proposal. The findings of that study, issued in March, recommended against dismantling OPM. Elevating Human Capital: Reframing the U.S. Office of Personnel Management’s Leadership Imperative, National Academy of Public Administration, March 2021 (NAPA Report).
The study also highlighted years of OPM failures, particularly failing to provide greater flexibilities to hire. It noted the constant turnover at OPM – from the position of Director on down through the ranks. And it stated emphatically that OPM needs to “focus on strategic human capital management and performance.” NAPA Report at p.22.
Now for the good news. Even before the issuance of the NAPA Report, the current administration signaled support for the mission of OPM.
Just a few days after the Inauguration, on Jan. 25, the Biden Administration identified a new OPM leadership team. On Feb. 23, 2021, President Biden nominated Kiran Ahuja to be OPM Director. Her nomination is pending in the Senate. OPM has been without a Senate-confirmed Director since Dale Cabaniss left abruptly in March 2020, and leadership is important.
Most recently, on April 9, OPM indicated it is ready to improve its management of human capital. It launched the Federal Workforce Competency Initiative (it even has an acronym, FWCI, which we know is a big deal in the Federal government!) to Build Stronger Federal Workforce Capability.
The first phase of the FWCI will be a survey of Federal agency employees and supervisors. The purpose of the survey is to identify competencies and tasks relevant to Federal jobs. Hmmm. Sounds like a good start (and yes, I know, OPM has done stuff like this in the past to no avail. But I’m always hopeful).
Here are some more good signs. We know that OPM worked quickly to issue guidance to agencies on the implementation of Biden Executive Order 14003. I’m also hearing that OPM is happily taking phone calls and providing advice.
Folks, this is a big deal. The Federal workforce is essential to this country. Agencies need support managing the workforce – from hiring to firing. OPM is supposed to help. And maybe, just maybe, help is on the way.
Think good thoughts, my friends. I’m looking forward to a renewed and improved OPM that can result in a better Federal government for all! That would be Good News! [email protected]