Human Capital:

Selected Agencies' Statutory Authorities Could Offer Options in Developing a Framework for Governmentwide Reform

GAO-05-398R: Published: Apr 21, 2005. Publicly Released: May 23, 2005.

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As the federal government continues its overall transformation, the centerpiece of this effort is the strategic management of human capital. Federal agencies will need the most effective human capital systems to succeed in their transformations. Congress has recently given agencies such as the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the Departments of Homeland Security (DHS) and Defense (DOD) statutory authorities intended to help them manage their human capital strategically to achieve results. Consequently, in this environment, the federal government is quickly approaching the point where "standard governmentwide" human capital policies and processes are neither standard nor governmentwide. To help advance the discussion concerning how governmentwide human capital reform should proceed, GAO and the National Commission on the Public Service Implementation Initiative hosted a forum on whether there should be a governmentwide framework for human capital reform and, if so, what this framework should include. While there were divergent views among the forum participants, there was general agreement on a set of principles, criteria, and processes that would serve as a starting point for further discussion in developing a governmentwide framework to advance needed human capital reform. Specifically, they include principles that the government should retain in a framework for reform because of their inherent, enduring qualities, such as certain prohibited personnel practices; criteria that agencies should have in place as they plan for and manage their new human capital authorities, such as adequate resources for planning, implementation, training, and evaluation; and processes that agencies should follow as they implement new human capital authorities, such as involving employees and stakeholders in the design and implementation of new human capital systems. Building on this framework, we were asked to provide information on the statutory human capital authorities that Congress has already provided to various federal agencies.

We reviewed six selected agencies' existing human capital authorities by the principles, criteria, and processes included in the framework for governmentwide reform. These six agencies have undergone statutory reform of their human capital systems within the past 10 years. Cataloging these recent authorities could help Congress craft an approach to address human capital reform efforts. For example, assuring adequate training--one process identified in the framework--is critical to the success of any human capital reform. Congress took a very broad approach in DOD's human capital legislation, requiring the department to provide adequate training and retraining for supervisors, managers, and employees in the implementation and operation of its performance management system. Congress took a more prescriptive approach with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), requiring that it implement an employee training program no later than 180 days after enactment of its new personnel authority. In addition, IRS was to submit a plan that provided information such as scheduling and funding of the training and covered specific training areas such as customer service and conflict resolution. To illustrate more broadly what specific authorities Congress has provided to agencies in the past, we identified and summarized 10 selected agencies' exemptions from various chapters of title 5 of the U.S. Code dealing with civil service employees. This report provides details on these agencies' exemptions in six key areas: (1) merit system principles and prohibited personnel practices; (2) hiring, staffing, and employment authority; (3) performance management; (4) classification and pay administration; (5) labor-management relations; and (6) adverse actions and appeals. Except for merit system principles, generally these are the provisions of title 5 that Congress has often addressed in past agency-specific human capital reforms and might want to address in any comprehensive human capital reform legislation. For example, in the area of adverse actions and appeals, IRS is partially exempt from the general procedures that agencies are to follow in initiating adverse actions against employees for certain performance or conduct reasons. In contrast, DHS and DOD are exempt and can design their own procedures for such actions. There is general recognition of a need to continue to develop a governmentwide framework for human capital reform that Congress and the administration can implement to enhance performance, ensure accountability, and position the nation for the future. This report offers options that Congress can consider to ensure the critical components of the framework are consistently addressed when granting both (1) agency-specific human capital authorities so agencies can design and implement effective human capital systems to help them address 21st century challenges and succeed in their transformations, and (2) governmentwide reform to provide broad consistency where desirable and appropriate.

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