Additional Posthearing Questions Related to Proposed Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Human Capital Regulations

GAO-04-617R: Published: Apr 30, 2004. Publicly Released: Apr 30, 2004.

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J. Christopher Mihm
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On February 25, 2004, Congress heard testimony at a hearing entitled "The Key to Homeland Security: The New Human Resources System." This report responds to additional questions posed by Senator Akaka and Senator Lautenberg.

Members of the internal appeals panel are appointed by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary for 3-year terms and may be removed by the Secretary "only for inefficiency, neglect of duty, or malfeasance." These appointment and removal procedures are identical to the appointment and removal provisions for the members of the proposed DHS Labor Relations Board. Removal of the panel members by the Secretary may potentially compromise the real or perceived independence of the panel's decisions. We suggested, as an alternative, that the department should consider having members of the panel removed only by a majority decision of the panel. Such changes might also strengthen the independence of the Labor Relations Board. We also said that DHS might wish to consider staggering the terms of the members to ensure a degree of continuity on the board. The administration has requested for fiscal year 2005 $102.5 million to fund training, the development of the performance management and compensation system, and contractor support. In addition, the fiscal year 2005 budget requests over $10 million for a performance pay fund in the first phase of implementation to recognize those who meet or exceed expectations and about $20 million to fund the development of a departmental human resources information technology system. It is important that certain costs are one-time in nature and, therefore, should not be built into the base of DHS's budget for future years. Changes to human capital management should be implemented only when an agency has the institutional infrastructure in place. This institutional infrastructure includes, at a minimum, a human capital planning process that integrates the agency's human capital policies, strategies, and programs with its program goals and mission and desired outcomes; the capabilities to develop and implement a new human capital system effectively; and a modern, effective, and credible performance management system that includes adequate safeguards to prevent abuse of employees. Consistent with the institutional infrastructure described above, agencies in other countries are placing a greater emphasis on achieving alignment between individual and organizational results. The proposed DHS regulations state the department's interest in the alignment of individual performance expectations with the mission and strategic goals, but do not yet detail how individual performance expectations will be aligned with the department's mission and strategic goals. In addition, the proposed regulations describe a phased approach to implementation and a commitment to an ongoing evaluation of the effectiveness of the human capital system. High-performing organizations use validated core competencies to examine individual contributions to organizational results. Competencies define the skills and supporting behaviors that individuals are expected to exhibit to carry out their work effectively and can provide a fuller picture of an individual's performance and contribution to organizational goals. A competitive compensation system can help organizations attract and retain a quality workforce. To begin to develop such a system, organizations assess the skills and knowledge they need; compare compensation against other public, private, or nonprofit entities competing for the same talent in a given locality; and classify positions along levels of responsibility. While one size does not fit all, organizations generally structure their competitive compensation systems to separate base salary from other special incentives.

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