Workforce Planning:

Interior, EPA, and the Forest Service Should Strengthen Linkages to Their Strategic Plans and Improve Evaluation

GAO-10-413: Published: Mar 31, 2010. Publicly Released: Mar 31, 2010.

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GAO and others have shown that successful organizations use strategic workforce planning to help meet present and future mission requirements. Although agency approaches to strategic workforce planning can vary depending on needs and mission, GAO and the Office of Personnel Management have identified six leading principles that workforce planning should address. The Appropriations Committees directed GAO to review workforce planning at the Department of the Interior (Interior), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the Department of Agriculture's Forest Service. GAO examined (1) workforce planning processes used at each agency, (2) the extent to which these processes incorporate the six principles, and (3) how, if at all, the agencies link workforce planning with the annual budget allocation processes. GAO reviewed agencies' workforce plans, strategic plans, and budget documents and interviewed human resources, planning, and budget officials.

Interior, EPA, and the Forest Service vary in their approaches to workforce planning. Interior's workforce planning occurs at its eight bureaus, which use departmental guidance to develop their own workforce plans in a generally consistent format. EPA issued an agencywide plan in 2006 that is currently being updated, and the Forest Service has issued annual agencywide workforce plans since 2007. The agencies vary in the extent to which they incorporate the six leading workforce planning principles, but they generally do not link their workforce plans and their strategic plans or monitor and evaluate their workforce planning efforts. The six leading principles and agency actions are as follows: (1) Align workforce planning with strategic planning and budget formulation. The agencies generally do not align their workforce and strategic plans and differ in whether they considered their workforce plans when formulating their budgets. (2) Involve managers, employees, and other stakeholders in planning. The agencies varied in the extent to which they involved top managers and others in developing workforce plans. (3) Identify critical occupations, skills, and competencies and analyze workforce gaps. The agencies have taken some steps to identify mission-critical occupations and competencies, which form the basis for much of the agencies' workforce planning. (4) Develop strategies to address workforce gaps. The agencies have identified some strategies to address certain workforce gaps. (5) Build capacity to support workforce strategies. The agencies varied in the actions they have taken to support workforce planning efforts through the effective use of human capital flexibilities, such as recruitment and retention incentives. (6) Monitor and evaluate progress. The agencies generally have not monitored and evaluated the results of their workforce planning efforts. The agencies do not directly link their workforce planning and budget allocation processes. At Interior, although unit and program officials in some bureaus use workforce plans to distribute staff geographically, the bureaus do not track how program officials use workforce plans to allocate funds. EPA's process for allocating resources involves making annual incremental adjustments to prior year allocations and does not directly link to workforce plans. The Forest Service's budget allocation guidance does not mention workforce planning directly. However, according to Forest Service executive leaders, the agency takes workforce planning information into consideration at the unit and program levels during budget formulation and again during the annual budget allocation process.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Open

    Comments: The Forest Service has not yet fully implemented the recommendation to incorporate into the agency's workforce plans clear and explicit links between the workforce plans and the strategic plan; however, it has taken a step toward doing so in the future. Specifically, a new Forest Service Strategic Plan has not yet been issued to update the agency's FY2007 to FY2012 plan, as of August 2014, but according to the agency's FY2015 budget justification, the Forest Service is in the process of finalizing a FY2014 to FY2019 Strategic Plan. In addition, the agency's latest workforce plan is still in draft form and it currently is unclear how the draft workforce plan incorporates clear and explicit links to the agency's strategic plan, as we recommended. However, the Forest Service has taken action toward implementing this recommendation. Specifically, in June 2014, the Chief of the Forest Service formally chartered a Forest Service Human Capital Planning Committee to oversee all aspects of human capital planning for the agency. One of the roles of the committee is to ensure that human capital planning is in strategic alignment with the Agency's Strategic Plan, and the committee membership is to include a Strategic Planning representative with the responsibility of validating the direction of the agency planning effort. Until these efforts result in a workforce plan that clearly and explicitly links to the strategic plan, this recommendation will remain open.

    Recommendation: To ensure that Interior, EPA, and the Forest Service more fully incorporate leading workforce planning principles into their workforce planning efforts, the Secretary of the Interior, the Administrator of EPA, and the Secretary of Agriculture, through the Chief of the Forest Service, should incorporate into their agency's workforce plans clear and explicit links between the workforce plans and the strategic plan, and describe how the workforce plans will help the agency achieve its strategic goals.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  2. Status: Open

    Comments: Interior has developed a strategic workforce management plan that outlines the strategies the Department is currently using and that it plans to expand over the coming years. According to officials, the workforce management plan will help the Department manage workforce levels to more effectively deploy resources in consideration of emerging needs, skills gaps, outdated and outmoded requirements, and be positioned to respond to constrained budgets. Interior has also developed a workforce planning manual to help guide staff who are tasked with developing workforce plans. However, as of August 2014, Interior has not provided any updated workforce plans prepared by its bureaus or offices since our report was issued in March 2010. Until Interior provides updated workforce plans for each of the bureaus and offices, we are unable to determine whether these plans incorporate clear and explicit links to the strategic plan and how the plans will help Interior achieve its strategic goals.

    Recommendation: To ensure that Interior, EPA, and the Forest Service more fully incorporate leading workforce planning principles into their workforce planning efforts, the Secretary of the Interior, the Administrator of EPA, and the Secretary of Agriculture, through the Chief of the Forest Service, should incorporate into their agency's workforce plans clear and explicit links between the workforce plans and the strategic plan, and describe how the workforce plans will help the agency achieve its strategic goals.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

  3. Status: Open

    Comments: As of August 2014, Interior has not provided any updated workforce plans prepared by its bureaus or offices since our report was issued in March 2010. Until Interior provides updated workforce plans for these bureaus and offices, we cannot review any mechanisms the department may have developed to monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of such plans in achieving its strategic goals.

    Recommendation: To ensure that Interior, EPA, and the Forest Service more fully incorporate leading workforce planning principles into their workforce planning efforts, the Secretary of the Interior, the Administrator of EPA, and the Secretary of Agriculture, through the Chief of the Forest Service, should establish mechanisms that their agency can use to monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of its workforce planning efforts, particularly in achieving the agency's strategic goals.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

  4. Status: Open

    Comments: The Forest Service has not yet implemented the recommendation to establish mechanisms that their agency can use to monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of its workforce planning efforts. As of August 2014, the Forest Service was beginning to use a USDA human capital planning tool to monitor and evaluate its workforce planning. According to Forest Service officials, evaluation of the items identified in the tool will be completed prior to the end of FY2014, and completion and full implementation of the tool is scheduled to be completed by September 2015.

    Recommendation: To ensure that Interior, EPA, and the Forest Service more fully incorporate leading workforce planning principles into their workforce planning efforts, the Secretary of the Interior, the Administrator of EPA, and the Secretary of Agriculture, through the Chief of the Forest Service, should establish mechanisms that their agency can use to monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of its workforce planning efforts, particularly in achieving the agency's strategic goals.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  5. Status: Open

    Comments: EPA has not yet implemented the recommendation to establish mechanisms that their agency can use to monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of its workforce planning efforts. However, EPA officials said their workforce planning efforts this year will focus on evaluating the impacts of agency-wide use of voluntary early retirement authority and voluntary separation incentive payments in light of the sweeping fiscal changes in 2013.

    Recommendation: To ensure that Interior, EPA, and the Forest Service more fully incorporate leading workforce planning principles into their workforce planning efforts, the Secretary of the Interior, the Administrator of EPA, and the Secretary of Agriculture, through the Chief of the Forest Service, should establish mechanisms that their agency can use to monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of its workforce planning efforts, particularly in achieving the agency's strategic goals.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  6. Status: Open

    Comments: EPA has not yet fully implemented the recommendation to incorporate into the agency's workforce plans clear and explicit links between the workforce plans and the strategic plan. According to EPA officials, each regional office and headquarters program office considers the agency's strategic plan, the Administrator's priorities, and budget commitments while the agency is planning what workforce it will need. Since 2012, the final product of this effort is a workforce planning gap analysis, rather than a workforce plan, and officials say the gap analysis report is used to develop plans and strategies for obtaining needed skills over the long term. However, the gap analysis reports for 2012-2015 and 2013-2016 did not provide explicit links to the strategic plan. Furthermore, EPA officials said the 2013 gap analysis report for 2013-2016 remains unpublished because prior to its release, the agency faced seeping fiscal change related to sequestration, furloughs and, additional budget restrictions, dramatically altering workforce demographic projections and the strategic recommendations in the report. In addition, recent strategic plans contained little information on workforce planning.

    Recommendation: To ensure that Interior, EPA, and the Forest Service more fully incorporate leading workforce planning principles into their workforce planning efforts, the Secretary of the Interior, the Administrator of EPA, and the Secretary of Agriculture, through the Chief of the Forest Service, should incorporate into their agency's workforce plans clear and explicit links between the workforce plans and the strategic plan, and describe how the workforce plans will help the agency achieve its strategic goals.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  7. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: FS has implemented this recommendation by taking steps to establish processes for communicating about workforce planning, assigning responsibility and establishing time frames for implementation, and tracking implementation. Specifically, with regard to communicating about workforce planning, in June 2014, the Chief of the Forest Service formally chartered a Forest Service Human Capital Planning Committee to oversee all aspects of human capital planning for the agency. The charter states that the committee chair is to, among other things, work with the Director of Human Resources Management to present committee recommendations to the National Leadership Council and Executive Leadership Team. The committee is to include an executive representative or sponsor as an executive leadership liaison to the committee, with the role of ensuring two-way communication with FS executive leadership. The Forest Service also developed a formal workforce planning communication plan dated June 2014, and agency officials told us that implementation is scheduled to begin in FY 2015. In addition, with regard to assigning responsibility and establishing time frames for implementing various workforce planning actions identified by the agency, in FY 2013, the FS developed an action plan for improving human capital planning processes. The plan includes a set of 13 "action items", each with a due date and an "owner" identified. The Forest Service provided documentation to support that they have tracked progress toward the dates for these action items. With regard to tracking implementation of the recommendations, the FS is in the process of gathering a team to begin this process and expects it will be in place by the end of FY2014.

    Recommendation: To further capitalize on the Forest Service's existing workforce planning efforts, the Secretary of Agriculture, through the Chief of the Forest Service, should establish processes for (1) communicating the recommendations in the agency's annual 5-year workforce plans; (2) assigning responsibility and establishing time frames for implementing the recommendations; and (3) tracking implementation of the recommendations.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

 

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