Human Capital:

OPM Can Better Assist Agencies in Using Personnel Flexibilities

GAO-03-428: Published: May 9, 2003. Publicly Released: Jun 9, 2003.

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Congressional requesters asked GAO to provide information on actions that the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) has taken to facilitate the effective use of human capital flexibilities throughout the federal government and what additional actions OPM might take in this regard. These flexibilities represent the policies and practices that an agency has the authority to implement in managing its workforce.

OPM Has Taken Several Actions to Assist Agencies: OPM has an important leadership role in identifying, developing, applying, and overseeing human capital flexibilities across the federal government. OPM has taken several actions to assist federal agencies in effectively using the human capital flexibilities that are currently available to agencies. For example, OPM has issued a handbook for agencies that identifies the various flexibilities available to help manage their human capital. Also, OPM has initiated some efforts to assist agencies in identifying additional flexibilities that might be helpful to agencies in managing their workforces. Human Resources Directors Gave Mixed Views on OPM's Role: To yield indications of the progress that OPM has made in its important role related to assisting agencies in the use of human capital flexibilities, GAO surveyed the human resources directors of the federal government's 24 largest departments and agencies in fall of 2001 and again in the fall of 2002. There was little change in the directors' level of satisfaction with OPM's role in assisting agencies in using available flexibilities, which remained mixed. For example, one director said OPM had effectively facilitated the use of work-life flexibilities, but others thought that OPM had placed its own restrictive interpretation on the use of other personnel flexibilities. The level of satisfaction with OPM's role in identifying additional flexibilities was greater in 2002 than in 2001, but still remained below the satisfaction level for assistance with existing flexibilities. Several directors said that OPM had not worked diligently enough in supporting authorization of governmentwide use of new flexibilities that have been sufficiently tested and deemed successful. Additional OPM Actions Could Further Facilitate Use of Flexibilities: Although OPM has recently taken numerous actions, OPM could more fully meet its leadership role to assist agencies in identifying, developing, and applying human capital flexibilities across the federal government. In its ongoing internal review of its existing regulations and guidance, OPM could more directly focus on determining the continued relevance and utility of its regulations and guidance by asking whether they provide the flexibility that agencies need in managing their workforces while also incorporating protections for employees. In addition, OPM can maximize its efforts to make human capital flexibilities and effective practices more widely known to agencies by compiling, analyzing, and sharing information about when, where, and how the broad range of flexibilities are being used, and should be used, to help agencies meet their human capital management needs. OPM also needs to more vigorously identify new flexibilities that would help agencies better manage their human capital and then work to build consensus for the legislative action needed.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: According to OPM officials, OPM reviewed existing regulations and guidance when it proposed draft regulations in a number of areas. For example, in January 2005, OPM proposed draft regulations to streamline the procedures for appointing individuals with disabilities. In March 2005, OPM proposed draft regulations on the student employment program to give agencies more flexibility in recruiting and retaining talented students for federal jobs and also allow students to credit time spent on structured, non-federal internships toward the requirements for conversion to permanent federal jobs. In July 2006, OPM proposed revisions to dual compensation regulations to provide agencies greater flexibility in waiving the offsetting of salary for re-employed annuitants.

    Recommendation: Given the importance of the effective use of flexibilities as a critical part of improved human capital management within the federal government and consistent with OPM's ongoing efforts in this regard, the Director of OPM should review existing OPM regulations and guidance to determine whether they provide agencies with needed flexibility while also incorporating protection for employees.

    Agency Affected: Office of Personnel Management

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In 2004 and early 2005, OPM conducted training and informational sessions for the Chief Human Capital Officers (CHCO) Council and federal agencies through numerous Federal Executive Boards, most notably on federal hiring flexibilities. In January 2005, OPM launched a web-based tool (Federal Hiring Flexibilities Resource Center) to assist agency officials in determining the appropriate hiring flexibilities to use given their specific situations. In March 2006, OPM issued additional guidance to agencies on the use of category rating, an alternative ranking and selection procedure used to increase the number of qualified applicants from which a selecting official can choose while also preserving veterans' preference. In August 2006, OPM increased the involvement and attendance of key federal human resources staff in the CHCO Training Academy, which provides a forum to share, discuss, and learn about best practices in the federal human capital arena. In 2007, OPM plans to issue a report based on a survey of managers and human resources officials at eight federal agencies on issues related to the use and effectiveness of federal hiring flexibilities. OPM plans to brief the CHCO Council on the results of the study with the goal of sharing and distributing best practices across federal agencies.

    Recommendation: Given the importance of the effective use of flexibilities as a critical part of improved human capital management within the federal government and consistent with OPM's ongoing efforts in this regard, the Director of OPM should work with and through the new Chief Human Capital Officers Council to more thoroughly research, compile, and analyze information on the effective and innovative use of human capital flexibilities and more fully serve as a clearinghouse in sharing and distributing information about when, where, and how the broad range of flexibilities are being used, and should be used, to help agencies meet their human capital management needs.

    Agency Affected: Office of Personnel Management

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: OPM has taken action to identify additional personnel flexibilities needed to better manage the federal workforce and has worked to develop and build consensus for needed legislation. In 2005, OPM included a number of hiring and recruitment flexibilities in the proposed Working for America Act. According to OPM, provisions in the act relating to proposed flexibilities included the ability of agencies to use new appointing authorities. In March 2007, OPM submitted proposed legislation to authorize federal agencies to employ retired federal employees on a limited basis without offset of annuity from salary.

    Recommendation: Given the importance of the effective use of flexibilities as a critical part of improved human capital management within the federal government and consistent with OPM's ongoing efforts in this regard, the Director of OPM should continue to identify additional personnel flexibilities needed to better manage the federal workforce and then develop and build consensus of needed legislation.

    Agency Affected: Office of Personnel Management

 

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