GAO Suggests Improvements to Human Capital Management

Human capital management has consistently been a topic of concern for the Government Accountability Office (GAO). In a recent report, the GAO outlines how agencies can combat these struggles by identifying key trends impacting the federal workforce and outlining strategies for achieving higher performance.

Since 2001, human capital management has been a “high risk area” on the biennial GAO High Risk List. The GAO identified skills gaps in government-wide operations relating to science, technology, engineering, mathematics, cybersecurity, and acquisitions.

The GAO has also noted that the changing nature of federal work and high percentage of employees eligible for retirement will produce additional skills gaps in leadership and industrial knowledge that “could threaten to aggravate the problems created from existing skills gaps.”

In their most recent report, the GAO noted several key trends impacting federal work to be:

  • technological advances,
  • an increased reliance on nonfederal partners,
  • fiscal constraints,
  • evolving mission requirements, and
  • changing demographics and shifting attitudes toward work.

The report notes that while these trends can aggravate the existing skills gaps, they also “present an opportunity for agencies to realign their workforce with needed skills and leadership to better meet existing and newly emerging mission requirements.”

As the GAO finds, agencies are equipped with many of the authorities necessary to combat these challenges and need to use them.

The report outlines strategies and best practices for facing these risks, such as identifying existing skills and competencies, highlighting agency mission, recruiting continuously and starting the hiring process early in the school year, using payment authorities strategically, and addressing barriers to telework.

Unfortunately, a large problem, according to the GAO report, is perceptions surrounding federal employment.

“While federal agencies offer unique opportunities to pursue meaningful work, achieve autonomy, and have a healthy work-life balance, experts also highlighted key challenges regarding perceptions surrounding federal work from the potential applicants,” the report finds. “These challenges include perceptions that the government is too bureaucratic, federal work lacks innovation and involves maintaining the status quo, federal work is less prestigious than the private sector, and federal workers do not get to see the immediate effect of their work.”

Prolonged government shutdowns fuel these negative perceptions.

Agencies, Congress, and the president must work congruously to engage the federal workforce and invest in human capital management. The GAO finds that without this collaboration, “the federal government may continue to struggle to compete for workers with the skills needed to address the nation’s social, economic, and security challenges.”

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