GAO Says Insufficient Use of Personnel Flexibilities Can Significantly Hinder Federal Agencies

WASHINGTON – Insufficient and ineffective use of personnel flexibilities can significantly hinder the ability of federal agencies to recruit, hire, retain, and manage their staff, according to a new report by the General Accounting Office (GAO), Congress? watchdog arm.

Senate Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman (D-CT), Ranking Member Fred Thompson (R-TN), Subcommittee Chairmen Daniel Akaka (D-HI) and Richard Durbin (D-IL), and Subcommittee Ranking Members Thad Cochran (R-MS) and George Voinovich (R-OH), requested that the GAO provide information on the most effective existing personnel flexibilities, additional flexibilities that are needed, and protecting employee rights when implementing flexibilities.

?Effective use of agencies’ personnel authorities can play a key role in recruitment, development, and retention of a high-quality federal workforce,? said Chairman Lieberman. ?The report calls on agency leaders to collaborate with managers, employees, and unions in implementing flexible personnel authority, and to establish clear and transparent guidelines to help ensure that implementation of available flexibilities is consistent and fair.?

?Over the years we have seen a parade of witnesses and reports in the Governmental Affairs Committee telling us that the federal civil service system is in desperate need of repair.  Federal managers have an extremely difficult time recruiting effective, qualified public servants, and few methods for rewarding the employees they already have. Not only should managers be given the tools to effectively hire, discipline, and reward federal employees, they must also effectively implement existing flexibilities to ensure a top quality workforce,? said Ranking Member Thompson.

?Dynamic workplace flexibilities can significantly contribute to the missions of federal agencies and help them achieve their goals.  At a time when about half the federal workforce is eligible for retirement, we must make sure that existing flexibilities aid in the recruitment, retention, and motivation of employees, while preserving the rights of workers.  However, awareness and training for managers is crucial for the use of existing flexibilities and the protection of employee rights.  I’m pleased the report focuses on the need to make sure supervisors and managers use their responsibilities properly,? Senator Akaka said.

?The federal government is facing an array of personnel challenges.  Federal managers and personnel specialists must do a better job of using the flexibilities currently authorized to effectively manage their people.  At the same time, there is no question that additional flexibilities are needed.  I commend GAO for this report, which will assist us as we move forward with our efforts to modernize the civil service so that federal employees will be able to deliver the results that our citizens deserve,? said Senator Voinovich.

The GAO found that some effective flexibilities currently exist, including alternative work schedules, child care and transit assistance, special hiring authorities, and incentive awards for notable job performance. However, it also outlined additional flexibilities that are needed, such as more flexible pay approaches, streamlining the hiring process, and addressing poor job performance.

The GAO also outlined six key practices for effective use of personnel flexibilities, which are

 –      planning strategically and making targeted investments;

<              –  ensuring stakeholder input in developing policies and procedures;

<              –  educating managers and employees on the availability and use of flexibilities;

<              –  streamlining administrative processes;

<              –  building transparency and accountability into the system; and

<              –  changing the organizational culture.

A copy of the GAO report can be obtained here