Human Capital:

Complete Information and More Analyses Needed to Enhance DOD's Civilian Senior Leader Strategic Workforce Plan

GAO-12-990R: Published: Sep 19, 2012. Publicly Released: Sep 19, 2012.

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What GAO Found

DOD's approach for determining its civilian senior leader workforce projections to meet future requirements incorporated the results of two separate assessments. In its 2010-2018 strategic workforce plan, DOD presented data that projected reductions of 178 civilian senior leader positions within its five career civilian senior leader workforces during fiscal years 2011 and 2012. To conduct its assessment for the strategic workforce plan, DOD used a computer modeling system that is managed by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and used by several agencies across the federal government. The system models significant career events, such as promotions, reassignments, and retirements, to produce projections. During this same time period, DOD also completed an efficiency initiative at the direction of the Secretary of Defense to, among other things, ensure that DOD's senior leader workforce is properly sized and aligned with DOD's mission and priorities. For its efficiency initiative, the department devised an internal DOD methodology in which it rank ordered positions in terms of higher and lower priority in order to identify reductions. This assessment identified a reduction of 178 civilian senior leader positions within DOD's civilian senior leader workforce for fiscal years 2011 and 2012. From the plan, it is not clear how these two efforts fit together, or how DOD drew from the strengths of each analysis. DOD officials explained to us, however, that they incorporated the results of the efficiency initiative into the strategic workforce plan when they issued that plan, so that the projections of the workforce plan and the results of the efficiency initiative would be consistent.

DOD assessments of the critical skills, competencies, and gaps of its career civilian senior leader workforces did not identify areas that will require increased focus to help the department meet its vital missions. Most of DOD's civilian senior leader workforce can be categorized into five separate workforces, and our review found that DOD conducted assessments of skills, competencies, and gaps for two of them--the Senior Executive Service and Defense Intelligence Senior Executive Service workforces. However, the department did not include the results of either assessment in its 2010-2018 strategic workforce plan and only discussed the processes it used for conducting the assessment of its Senior Executive Service workforce. Further, DOD did not conduct assessments of skills, competencies, and gaps for the remaining three career civilian senior leader workforces--its Senior Level, Senior Technical, and Defense Intelligence Senior Level workforces. Officials told us that they did not assess these three workforces because the skills and competencies of these workforces are position-specific. However, section 115b of Title 10 of the United States Code requires that DOD conduct assessments of the skills, competencies, and gaps within all its senior leader workforces. Without conducting such assessments and reporting on them, it is difficult to identify those areas that will require increased focus on recruiting, retention, and training. Therefore, we are recommending that DOD conduct assessments of the skills, competencies, and gaps within all five of its career senior leader workforces and report the results in its future strategic workforce plans.

Why GAO Did This Study

The ability of the Department of Defense (DOD) to achieve its mission and carry out its responsibilities depends in large part on whether it can sustain a civilian senior leader workforce that possesses necessary skills and competencies. Managing civilian senior leaders effectively is imperative, especially in light of DOD’s plans to reduce at least 150 civilian senior leader positions, the department’s current cap on civilian personnel numbers, and the existing pay freeze. Further, as DOD faces fiscal constraints, implements its efficiency initiatives, and prepares for an anticipated drawdown in Afghanistan, the department is faced with the complex task of re-shaping its workforce to meet future needs. This includes assessing the requirements for approximately 2,900 civilian senior leaders who help manage DOD’s overall civilian workforce of more than 780,000 personnel. In managing these senior leaders, the department must ensure that they are sufficient in number and properly prepared to achieve DOD’s mission. One particular challenge, noted in DOD’s 2010-2018 strategic workforce plan, is that more than 60 percent of DOD’s civilian senior leader workforce will be eligible to retire by 2015.

Accordingly, section 115b Title 10 of the United States Code, enacted in October 2009, requires DOD to submit to congressional defense committees, on a recurring basis, a strategic workforce plan to shape and improve its civilian senior leader workforces. While this law does not specify a date for DOD to submit the plan, it does stipulate several requirements for the plan. These include an assessment of (1) the critical skills and competencies of the existing workforce of the department and projected trends in that workforce based on expected losses due to retirement and other attrition, and (2) gaps in the existing or projected workforce of the department that should be addressed to ensure that the department has continued access to the critical skills and competencies it needs. DOD's mandate previously required that the department's assessments cover a 7-year period following the year in which the plan is submitted to Congress. Therefore, DOD's latest civilian senior leader workforce plan covered the period 2010-2018.

Following the enactment of this legislation, the Secretary of Defense, in August 2010, announced an efficiency initiative to eliminate unnecessary overhead costs by, among other things, reviewing DOD’s entire senior leader workforce and reducing the total number of civilian senior leader positions by at least 150. The Secretary’s guidance called for these reductions to take place in fiscal years 2011 and 2012. After the Secretary’s announcement, DOD’s Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness created the Civilian Senior Executive Study Group, and directed the group to conduct a DOD-wide survey of the number, placement, skills, and competencies of civilian senior leader positions and to provide recommendations for restructuring civilian senior leader positions to best align with missions and responsibilities. The Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness also directed the group to consider how to inform follow-on efforts to further analyze civilian senior leader appointment, management, and renewal policies. The Civilian Senior Executive Study Group, which consisted of Senior Executive Service and General Schedule-15 representatives from the Office of the Secretary of Defense, each of the military departments, the Joint Staff, and the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence, issued its final report to the Secretary on November 23, 2010. The Secretary of Defense announced his decisions based on recommendations developed as part of the efficiency initiative, including recommendations made in this report on March 14, 2011.

Subsequently, on March 27, 2012, DOD issued its 2010-2018 Strategic Workforce Plan, and GAO, as mandated by the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2010, is required to report on that plan within 180 days of its submission to Congress. For this report on DOD's 2010-2018 plan we (1) reviewed DOD's approach for determining its civilian senior leader projections to meet future requirements and (2) evaluated the extent to which DOD's assessment of the critical skills, competencies, and gaps in the existing and future civilian senior leader workforces identified areas that will require increased focus to help the department meet its vital missions.

What GAO Recommends

To help ensure that Congress has the necessary information to provide effective oversight over all of DOD's civilian senior leader workforces, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness and the Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence to conduct assessments of the skills, competencies, and gaps within all five career civilian senior leader workforces and report them in DOD's future strategic workforce plans.

For more information, contact Brenda S. Farrell at (202) 512-3604 or farrellb@gao.gov.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Open

    Comments: In August 2014, officials with the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense (Intelligence) Human Capital Management Office stated that development of criteria for assessing the skills, competencies, and gaps of the department's Defense Intelligence Senior Executive Service and Defense Intelligence Senior Level workforces had been completed. According to the officials, the criteria will be included in the department's senior leader management policies and fully implemented once the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense (Personnel and Readiness) completes development, revision, and publication of other DOD related civilian senior leader management policies that the revised Defense Intelligence civilian senior leader policy references.

    Recommendation: To help ensure that Congress has the necessary information to provide effective oversight over all of DOD's civilian senior leader workforces, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness and the Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence to conduct assessments of the skills, competencies, and gaps within all five career civilian senior leader workforces and report them in DOD's future strategic workforce plans.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

 

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