President-elect Donald Trump can fix the federal workforce by junking the present rating system that scores almost all employees as above average, and instead promote based on performance instead of tenure and lengthen the probationary period for new hires from one to as many as five years.
Those were among a host of civil service reforms described in a nonpartisan report completed before the Nov. 8 presidential election. Many of the reforms could be quite attractive to the incoming chief executive, including abolishing the Office of Personnel Management and converting civil service retirement to 401(k)s rather than the present pension system.
The report comes from Transitions in Governance, a group that is “supported by a bipartisan coalition,” including the Partnership for Public Service, the Public Sector Consortium, the Senior Executives Association, and others interested in the federal workplace.
Although many of the changes suggested in the report would be appealing to Trump and conservatives worried about bloated government, the reforms could also catch the eyes of public service-minded millennials who would like federal jobs to be more like private-sector startup enterprises.
With many Baby Boomers retiring in the next decade, the federal workforce will change significantly, and the federal government is strategizing on how to attract top talent, so a huge political battle may be ahead that will determine whether working for the government will be look more like a Google office or the Post Office.
Making government work more attractive to young people by making it less stodgy and cluttered with red tape highlights a fascinating schism: Millennials presently tend to be political liberals, yet the civil service reforms outlined in the report are sure to be vehemently opposed by public employee unions that routinely support liberal politicians and fight to preserve the status quo.
Boring, back-office administrative bookkeeping functions should be outsourced so federal employees can focus on their core missions, according to the report. That is one example of a change that both conservatives and millennials driven to serve in the federal government could support but civil service unions would try to defeat. (RELATED: ‘Budget-Crunched’ VA Has 167 Interior Designers On Staff)
Conversely, substantive technology work like building agency web portals should be done rapidly by in-house programmers instead of bloated, unwieldy contracts with large outside companies.
Opportunities to hire from outside the traditional civil service exams should be increased, the report says. A new shop of web developers in the General Services Administration known simply as “18F” is an example.
The staff prefers a renewable contract-based, non-unionized environment that grants both managers and employees flexibility, rewards hard work, and allows for a quick exit to people who aren’t a good fit. (RELATED: Feds Return Nurse Accused Of Manslaughter To Work)
Millennial workers and conservative voters both want an employment culture that rewards good work ethic, which means fewer automatic salary increases and promotions based on tenure, and more non-monetary rewards, such as work-from-home days, based on measured performance.
Many millennials would prefer 401(k)s to pensions, since they no longer expect to work for one employer their whole career. And federal pay could be based on “tiers” or “locality benchmarks” rather than the one-size-fits-all General Schedule system.
“Currently federal employees receive merely a one-year probationary employment period and on day 366 they are automatically (without action from their supervisor) afforded permanent status,” the report says.
“The administration should extend the probationary period to 3-5 years and require a pro-active certification by a manager that a probationary employee should be granted permanent status. If an employee is not certified by the 3-5 year point, the employee would be automatically terminated.”
The Government Accountability Office has also recommended this, saying the best way to fire bad employees is while they are still new, but many government bosses simply don’t realize they can, or don’t bother trying when it’s easier to either ignore or transfer away poor performers.
That can lead to resentment as ambitious young people feel that jobs are being taken by less-motivated and less-qualified “Office Space”-like drones who are simply doing the bare minimum and riding out their days until they get a pension.
The culture of contracting, meanwhile, must be fixed so it is not fixated on “process, procedure and risk avoidance” leading to overpriced contracts with the same handful of so-called Beltway Bandits. This can be done in part by telling contractors what problem they need to solve, not exactly how to solve it.
Savings should be found not just with cuts, but by investing in programs whose mission is specifically to innovate in order to lower costs within an agency, the report says.
Political appointees shouldn’t react defensively to congressional oversight and should instead work together to fix problems. Congress, for its part, shouldn’t focus on “gotchas,” but rather individual government programs, according to the report.
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