Acendre 2019 Federal Government Human Capital Trends to Watch
Federal Government Human Capital Trends to Watch in 2019
Federal human capital leaders face a year filled with new and ongoing challenges in 2019. At the same time, their outlook can also be buoyed by opportunities presented by the President’s Management Agenda (PMA) as well as technology’s ongoing march to a world of transformed human resources (HR) and HR ecosystems. Acendre has studied the federal human capital landscape, spoken with numerous federal HR leaders and practitioners, and utilized insights and perspectives from our industry-leading People Analytics Center of Excellence to put together this 3rd annual report.
An ongoing theme that manifests itself across the federal HR landscape is that of information technology (IT) modernization and workforce transformation. We see this as the basis for numerous ways that Chief Human Capital Officers (CHCOs) are considering reinvention of their agencies in accordance with the administration’s goals and initiatives.
For example, the PMA recognizes the critical importance of building a workforce for the future, and this has implications for not only how the federal government hires and onboards employees, but also impacts employee engagement, measurement and development.
The PMA states that agencies should focus on these three key drivers of transformation:
- IT Modernization
- Data, accountability and transparency
- People – Workforce of the future.
As we researched and analyzed numerous trends we see emerging over the coming year, these 9 predictions are the ones that we feel will have the biggest impact on federal HR leaders.
1. IT Modernization remains top priority for most agencies
Various administrative and legislative initiatives ensure IT modernization will be at the top of agencies “To Do” lists. While the passage of the Modern Government Technology (MGT) Act and the associated Technology Modernization Fund (TMF) and Technology Modernization Board ensured modernization would remain at the forefront of federal IT initiatives, IT modernization received a further boost when it took its place as the key element of the PMA.
The PMA states that “modern information technology will function as the backbone of how Government serves the public in ways that meet their expectations and keep sensitive data and systems secure.” The goal here is about ensuring agencies implement modern and secure systems to enhance their ability to deliver on their missions, improve productivity and reduce costs.
The administration recognizes that modern commercial technologies can help the modernization effort, while improving security and reducing cybersecurity risks. With millions of people still recovering from the 2015 Office of Personnel Management (OPM) security breach, greatly enhanced security is critical to restoring the trust of citizens, including federal employees, and IT modernization is a vital component of that effort.
2. Cybersecurity scrutiny increases
Linked closely to IT modernization is cybersecurity, particularly given the public scrutiny and visibility of any security breaches. The PMA calls for “secure, modern and mission-capable information technology” to enhance the security posture of federal agencies. As with IT modernization, cybersecurity is another area where federal human capital and IT leaders need to be working together closely to ensure goals are in sync and agency wide requirements are met.
When reviewing HR technology, agencies are increasingly demanding adherence to the goals of the Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program (FedRAMP), a government-wide program that provides a standardized approach to security assessment, authorization, and continuous monitoring for cloud products and services. FedRAMP enables agencies to rapidly adapt from old, insecure legacy IT to mission-enabling, secure, and costeffective cloud-based IT.
With the 2015 OPM security breach and NASA’s recent data breach as just two examples, federal agencies are clearly in need of assistance and new solutions for ongoing exposure risks. Legacy IT systems, including HR systems, are widely known to maintain insufficient cybersecurity capabilities. HR leaders can no longer afford to compromise their employees’ and candidates’ privacy and data protection with outdated systems for hiring, onboarding and performance management. Furthermore, as new technology solutions come to the market to assist with employee engagement and learning, there will be additional risks, further highlighting the need for FedRAMP Authorized tools, products and platforms.
Recently, the Department of Homeland Security announced that the division that handles cybersecurity for the nation’s networks is to become a new agency called the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency. The move gives the new agency responsibility for “cybersecurity and critical infrastructure security programs, operations, and associated policy,” further confirming the importance of cybersecurity to the federal government.
3. Data and analytics take center stage
With data, accountability and transparency collectively one of the three key drivers of the PMA, the importance of data and analytics, which has been increasingly important to agencies, receives another nudge to ensure its standing as a high-priority initiative for federal agencies. Federal government needs to leverage data as a strategic asset to help agencies deliver on their missions.
But more and more data without a strategy can cause more problems than it solves. On the other hand, used properly, the opportunities presented by data are almost boundless, including the exploitation of data to improve decision-making and accountability. This decision-making and insight can utilized at all levels of an organization, from executive to staff. With the right data available to everyone with a need to know, agencies can not only make better-informed decisions, but productivity gains can be realized, as inefficiencies and bottlenecks are isolated and eliminated.
For federal HR leaders, people analytics are the must-have measuring stick for the agency workforce. Analytics provide insight into every aspect of workforce performance. Insight can be gleaned to gain understanding and insight to hire and onboard better. Once an employee joins the agency, people analytics provide information to better manage and improve the performance of employees, determine traits of high-performing teams and highly-engaged employees, and much more.
The power of data gives agencies the ability to deliver better results and hold employees and executives accountable, helping agencies address a key goal of the PMA.
4. Big boosts for employee engagement and workforce development
The administration has stressed the importance of a high-performing workforce and wants to build a modern workforce. The envisioned modern workforce empowers senior leaders and front-line managers to align staff skills with evolving mission needs. The OPM, Office of Management and Budget (OMB), and the Defense Department are leading efforts to improve federal employee engagement, re-skill and re-deploy human capital resources to develop a simple and strategic hiring plan.
Federal News Network reports that “reskilling the existing federal workforce and improving employee engagement and performance management are still top priorities for the administration, but the change will come more in how agencies collaborate and work with one another to tackle these challenges.” Furthermore, “reskilling” is also becoming an important element of agency workforce development.
Results from the annual Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (FEVS) continue to highlight struggles agencies have in building a highly engaged workforce with strong morale. Employee engagement is becoming the newly recognized centerpiece of organizational workforce performance. While traditional thinking revolves around engagement activities for employees and employee retention, the engagement process actually begins during candidate recruitment and carries through onboarding, and programs that address these points in the process are gaining attention. The effective flow of candidates and employees carries through to the work being performed, including the learning and development of employees. Josh Bersin calls this “learning in the flow of work.” Learning is evolving rapidly, including improvements so that learning is embedded into platforms where employees are working. The key driver is creating what is necessary so that learning systems can coach and train employees to improve their performance.
Ultimately, highly engaged employees are critical to establishing and maintaining a high-performing workforce. That is clearly aligned with the PMA’s goals and objectives.
5. The talent shortage and no letup for increased direct hiring authority needs
With historically low unemployment, a real shortage of talent and the never-ending battle against the private sector for talent, federal agencies are fighting for skilled people like never before. We see no letup in this situation. Indeed, with an aging federal workforce and accompanying retirements increasing, the state of affairs will likely become more challenging before it gets better.
Adding to the challenges presented by the talent shortage is the recent selection of Arlington, VA as one of Amazon’s HQ2 sites. This will make the competition for skilled workers by federal agencies, including security-cleared workers, even greater. While the selection of HQ2 should lure even more skilled workers to the area, the fight for workers between the private sector and the government will only intensify.
Faced with severed shortages of cybersecurity and Scientific, Technical, Engineering, Mathematics (STEM-related) positions, the OPM added new direct hiring authority for certain job positions which OPM deemed to have a critical need for additional talent. These new authorities were part of OPM’s work in implementing the PMA.
A Direct-Hire Authority (DHA) is a hiring authority that the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) can grant to Federal agencies for filling vacancies in specific occupations, grade levels, and locations when it can be proven that there is a critical hiring need or a severe shortage of candidates. These positions can typically be filled without OPM granting authority, but rather given by heads of agencies.
Related, the administration also wants to simplify the veterans preference, which despite past efforts to simplify, continues to be a complex process. Simplifying it would be beneficial for candidates, HR specialists and agencies.
6. A move to shared services
The federal government’s push for shared services continues. Shared services offer the potential for cost savings and operational efficiencies. Providing an additional push, the administration is an advocate of, and the MGT Act emphasizes the use of shared services. Pooling acquisition of common support services has apparent benefits. Yet, shared services in the federal government carry various complications and potential impediments, including governance, funding and acquisition policies.
Speaking to a Federal Computer Week panel, one federal agency leader noted that “if we can buy HR systems and we can buy finance systems, I don’t need money to build them. Why can’t we leverage industry dollars to make the investments and move the government off a capital expenditure model to an operating expense model? We can avoid the one time spikes if we distribute that investment over time into an opex model.”
While OMB, the General Services Administration (GSA) and OPM continue to work together on policy and standards for adoption, government shared services is certainly an area for HR leaders to keep an eye on.
7. AI gets real
Many federal leaders have been touting the benefits and even the arrival of AI in the federal government. Certainly, the potential exists and there are real movements toward AI, although there is still a long road ahead. Given that much of the federal workforce is overburdened with labor-intensive tasks that take too much time and drain too many resources, the gains from AI can be significant and impactful.
However, even given new technologies that will help agencies in their move to AI, there will need to be significant retraining to realize the benefits. A recent FedScoop article explained that “AI, automation and machine learning has the potential to free up more than 1.1 billion hours of laborintensive tasks that federal employees spend most of their time doing, like documenting information, instead directing it toward high-level operations. But that will only happen effectively if federal leaders can develop a strategy that will ultimately change the role of many employees and get them to buy into it.”
The PMA stresses the importance of both adopting automation technologies and reskilling federal workers for needed IT and cybersecurity positions. Given this emphasis, we see continued emphasis on AI. As principal Deloitte Consulting and U.S. Government and Public Service Robotics and Cognitive lead Marc Mancher stated, “we have not yet seen robotics scale in the U.S. Federal government. But government agencies will get there. The adoption cycle in government is slower because of security, privacy, union, and labor issues. The technology has proven itself, and now the ability to scale, and policy, is catching up.”
8. Attention to Wellness
The benefits of healthy employees have been well documented, as have the high cost of unhealthy employees. From disengagement to stress-related injuries and sickness, not paying attention to employees’ health usually has a high, negative impact.
As a May 2018 OPM memo stated, “the connection from wellness to employee engagement and productivity is well established. Both employees and agencies will benefit from reinforcing the importance of healthy living and a holistic approach to well-being through a variety of inclusive programs and services. Employers have a tremendous opportunity to help their employees see the value of adopting healthier behaviors.”
With clearly defined benefits and guidance from OPM, we see agencies placing increasing importance on the health of their employees and building on their wellness programs already in place. The upside for the people and agencies is too high to ignore.
9. Collaborative work and teams
Collaboration in the workforce continues to increase, due to improved technology that helps, along with evidence that collaboration and workforce teams improve workforce performance. As the federal government strives to improve performance, exploiting technology to connect employees and boost workforce performance is a logical step. Furthermore, collaboration and improved connectivity can help the workforce become more engaged, another important agency goal.
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- Linking individual performance to agency performance
- Improving productivity and accountability
- Saving money
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