Office of Personnel Management:

Key Lessons Learned to Date for Strengthening Capacity to Lead and Implement Human Capital Reforms

GAO-07-90: Published: Jan 19, 2007. Publicly Released: Jan 19, 2007.

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As the agency responsible for the federal government's human capital initiatives, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) must have the capacity to successfully guide human capital transformations necessary to meet the governance challenges of the 21st century. Given this key role, GAO was asked to assess OPM's capacity to lead further reforms. In June 2006, GAO testified on several management challenges that OPM faces. This report--the second in a series--supplements that testimony and, using the new senior executive performance-based pay system as a model for understanding OPM's capacity to lead and implement reform, identifies lessons learned that can inform future reforms. GAO analyzed relevant laws and documents, and obtained views from the Chief Human Capital Officers (CHCO) Council and human resource directors, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) staff, and OPM officials.

The congressionally authorized senior executive performance-based pay system, implemented in 2004, provides an opportunity to learn from experiences gained and apply those lessons to the design and implementation of future human capital reforms. Under the performance-based system, before an agency can receive the new pay flexibilities, OPM, with concurrence from OMB, must certify that the agency's appraisal system meets certain criteria. OPM is likely to play a similar leadership and oversight role for future reforms.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: (1) OPM administers the Federal Human Capital Survey every other year across the government. In alternate years, agencies are to conduct Annual Employee Surveys. Both these employee feedback mechanisms are in statute and regulation and provide ample data to agencies and OPM on employee attitudes. (2) In 2008, OPM conducted a government wide survey of the SES asking about pay for performance and executive development issues and publicly released the results in May 2008.

    Recommendation: To assist executive branch agencies in meeting the requirements for the certification of their senior executive performance appraisal systems, the Director of OPM should work with executive branch agencies to develop a systematic approach for obtaining employee attitudes towards human capital reforms.

    Agency Affected: Office of Personnel Management

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: OPM surveyed agencies that used the SES-PAAT in 2008. The results of that survey were used to improve the SES-PAAT and to develop two workshops for Executive Resources staff on system certification. Another outcome from the survey is that agencies are now able to submit certification results electronically. The President's Management Council has also established a working group to focus on improving the SES appraisal system certification process. That group began meeting on March 1, 2011 (as a follow-up to a larger scoped working group that met during the spring through the fall of 2010) and the group will be discussing how to improve the SES-PAAT.

    Recommendation: To assist executive branch agencies in meeting the requirements for the certification of their senior executive performance appraisal systems, the Director of OPM should develop a formal feedback mechanism to obtain agencies' views on OPM's implementation of the certification process. OPM should utilize this feedback to identify common agency concerns and develop action plans to address these concerns.

    Agency Affected: Office of Personnel Management

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: (1) In March 2008, the CHCO council issued a report summarizing human capital practices including performance management. (2)The CHCO Council has held a Training Academy sessions on performance management including SES system certification. For example, in January 2007, the training academy session addressed the SES performance system certification with agency officials presenting aspects of their systems and many agency officials attended. In August of 2007, the CHCO Council held a training academy session on the SES-PAAT that provided an opportunity for members of the Council to give feedback on the SES PAAT. In February 2008, the Council hosted a training academy session on the Results-Oriented Performance Culture indicators from Proud-to-Be goal related to performance management. (3) The Chief Human Capital Officers Academy was established as a forum for members of the Chief Human Capital Officers Council to discuss Federal human resources issues, learn from one another in an informal setting, and share best practices in the strategic management of human capital. Academy sessions, open to CHCO Council members only, are scheduled throughout the year on the third Thursday of the month at OPM.

    Recommendation: To assist executive branch agencies in meeting the requirements for the certification of their senior executive performance appraisal systems, the Director of OPM should work with the CHCO Council to develop a formal mechanism for sharing leading practices for implementing human capital initiatives, such as the senior executive performance appraisal certification and other performance management reform initiatives. This forum should include an adequate range of examples and best practices so as not to promote one-size-fits-all solutions.

    Agency Affected: Office of Personnel Management

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: (1) OPM has proposed legislative changes to the certification process that would eliminate the gap in certification coverage by making certification valid for 12 or 24 months, depending on provisional or full certification coverage, from the date of certification, rather than tied to the calendar year, which currently is the case. (See the Senior Professional Performance Act of 2007, (S. 1046) #2452147 for discussion of proposed changes). (2) In addition, OPM has developed the SES Performance Appraisal Assessment Tool (SES-PAAT) for fully certified agencies to use when applying for certification that can help avoid the gap in coverage. OPM issued it in December 2007. Fully certified agencies were to use it to apply for certification for the 2009-2010 certification cycle. By submitting the SES-PAAT by June 30, 2008, agencies will receive certification for 2009-2010 before December 31, 2008, when their current certification expires.

    Recommendation: To assist executive branch agencies in meeting the requirements for the certification of their senior executive performance appraisal systems, the Director of OPM should evaluate alternatives that could remedy the year-end time compression that agencies face when trying to meet OPM application requirements and avoid a gap in certification.

    Agency Affected: Office of Personnel Management

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In February 2010, OPM announced the deployment of an updated SES Performance Appraisal Assessment Tool (SES-PAAT) to facilitate agencies' submission of SES system certification requests. The instructions for the SES-PAAT are the basis for all OPM future guidance and the instructions for the tool include current guidance on submissions and timelines. OPM no longer issues an annual memo on guidance for certification because the SES-PAAT replaces that responsibility and instructs agencies to submit their certification packages 6 months prior to the expiration date of their current certifications. The Chief Human Capital Officers Council's Subcommittee on Performance Management worked with OPM on the development of the SES-PAAT and a Council Training Academy was held to solicit agency feedback on the tool. The SES-PAAT instructions for certification in 2010 are located on the OPM website at http://www.opm.gov/ses/performance/certification.asp

    Recommendation: To assist executive branch agencies in meeting the requirements for the certification of their senior executive performance appraisal systems, the Director of OPM should develop and publish a timeline for the issuance of certification guidance. This timeline should be developed with the input of the CHCO Council and provide agencies with adequate time to adjust to any changes in guidance.

    Agency Affected: Office of Personnel Management

  6. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: (1) In the first quarter of 2008 OPM completed an agency-wide competency assessment of all mission critical occupations. This involved examining current proficiency levels in relation to minimum required proficiency levels for core competencies, and determining the required competencies needed to meet current goals and objectives of each occupational series.

    Recommendation: To better align OPM's workforce skills and competencies for future human capital reform efforts, the Director of OPM should reexamine OPM's agencywide skills and competency assessment in light of its updated strategic management documents.

    Agency Affected: Office of Personnel Management

  7. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: OPM has reported that it has a strategy for monitoring the progress of implementing SES performance-based pay systems. This strategy includes the following components: (1) Review the progress agencies make towards achieving full certification of their systems; (2) Publish the annual SES Pay and Performance Management Report and analyze the results, to review whether agencies are making distinctions in pay based on performance; and (3) Review the SES-only responses to the annual Employee Viewpoint Survey (EVS), and in particular, look at the Performance Culture Index of the EVS. In addition, OPM updates the list of certified agencies every three months and publishes this information on OPM's website (the most recent update being dated Jan. 4, 2011). OPM also monitors its own progress by reporting in its Annual Performance Report the percentage of agency SES systems with fully-certified performance plans.

    Recommendation: To assist executive branch agencies in meeting the requirements for the certification of their senior executive performance appraisal systems, the Director of OPM should develop a strategy to allow OPM, other executive agencies, and Congress to monitor the progress of implementation of the senior executive performance-based pay system.

    Agency Affected: Office of Personnel Management

 

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