Military-style personnel system could smooth path to next-generation workforce

John Harvey, Secretary of of Veterans and Defense Affairs for the Commonwealth of Virginia

wfedstaff | June 4, 2015 8:05 pm

By Francis Rose
Federal News Radio

A strategic command-style structure, such as those used in the military branches and the Department of Defense as a whole, could provide civilian workforce managers, both in and out of the Pentagon, with a critical tool to build the workforce the government will need in 2025.

Retired Navy Adm. John Harvey (File photo)

“[The branches and DoD] have these very large recruiting commands,” said retired Navy Adm. John Harvey, a former commander of U.S. Fleet Forces Command and currently the secretary of of Veterans and Defense Affairs for the Commonwealth of Virginia. He spoke to Federal News Radio for our special report, The Reverse Retirement Wave.

Harvey said the military’s “large structures in their headquarters, that map out what the force should look like, and how we’re going to find those men and women; how we’re going to train them; how we’re going to retain them; and then deploy them throughout a career.”

Advertisement

But in both his career in uniform of nearly 40 years, Harvey has yet to see anything similar on the civilian side.

“It’s almost just sort of left to chance,” Harvey said.

Part of the challenge Harvey sees is where the money comes from.

“We pay for most of our civilian workforce out of [operations and maintenance] in all the services. On the military side, you have an MP [military personnel] fund, and you have a structure that follows that soldier, sailor, airman or Marine throughout his whole career,” he said.

And how that money is spent on the workforce may need rethinking too.

“We still do it [compensation] in the same way we did it in the 1950s, ‘60s, and ‘70s. No business would stay in business that way. I think the comparison and contrast on the military side and the civilian side is striking, and we could do so much better on the civilian side,” Harvey said.

The subject of civilian employee compensation has been a controversial one over the past several years, with federal employee groups fighting — in some cases futilely — against pay freezes, furloughs, increases in premiums and other payments, and other changes that would cut benefits or cost employees more money. Congress included several such proposals in its newly- approved budget resolution for fiscal 2016. And that ongoing nip-and-tuck of compensation has Harvey worried.

“There is so much uncertainty regarding the fundamentals,” Harvey said. “We’re still facing, as law, sequestration, if the budget is enacted above the [Budget Control Act] caps. That would imply, like it did last time, some type of furlough. So there is a lot of uncertainty at the very disruptive end.”

But Harvey said he believes employees are focused on the personal issues as much — or maybe more — than the broader, governmentwide issues.

Some of the questions Harvey believes employees ask:

  • What’s my retirement going to look like?
  • How could that change?
  • How are they going to compensate me over the course of my career?
  • What’s the impact on Social Security going to be?

“I think we need to take that [uncertainty] out, if we’re going to recruit the kind of people you need who will say, ‘I’m willing to commit to this type of career because the work can be so rewarding,'” he said.

Removing that uncertainty soon enough to give human resources leaders time to make decisions and build strategy for the workforce a decade from now may require taking another cue from the Defense Department, Harvey said.

“I’ve stayed in close touch with the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission work as it developed. I think it was great, great work. That to me is a great model to be used for the civilian workforce as well,” Harvey said.

A similar commission for the civilian workforce, not just at DoD but across government would be enormously beneficial, he said. “They could get at the framework of how you compensate and how you structure a career, when there are so many skill sets that are demanded across so many different agencies.”

MORE FROM THE SPECIAL REPORT, THE REVERSE RETIREMENT WAVE:

Part 1: Feds choose to stay longer, creating new retirement bubble

Part 2: Rehired annuitants help bridge agency skills gaps, but are they enough?

Part 3: Mentoring helps young feds answer the question, ‘What’s next?’

Part 4: Feds ride the money, benefits wave longer than expected

Part 5: Recruiting, retention key to bucking federal retirement trends

Part 7: Six signs of hope for the federal workforce of the future

Commentary: Time to start planning new retirement reality