Five years after agencies received new data requirements under the Evidence Act, the Office of Personnel Management is now setting a standard for what skills the federal workforce will need to reach those data-based goals.
The Evidence Act, which Congress passed back in 2018, aims to incorporate data more deeply into agencies’ programs. It also required agencies to name both chief data officers and chief evaluation officers as part of the senior career federal workforce, among many other broad provisions.
But when it comes to the hands-on work of using data in agency decision making, a new competency model from OPM intends to help agencies seek out the skills needed for employees to effectively carry out program evaluation work.
The competency model is not limited just to agencies looking to hire employees in that field.
“The competencies identified may be used by agencies in the workforce planning, recruitment, employee selection, training and development and performance management for their program evaluation positions,” OPM Director Kiran Ahuja said in a memo published Wednesday.
OPM listed 33 specific competencies that it said are important for program evaluation work. The list is split into general competencies and technical competencies.
The general competencies include, for instance, decision making, customer service, teamwork and leadership. On the technical side, the important skills include data analysis, project management and research, just to name a few.
The competency model from OPM also breaks down what skills are needed based on the employees’ level on the General Schedule. Not surprisingly, the higher the GS grade, the more complex the skills and the larger the emphasis on leadership-related competencies.
For example, a GS-9 employee working in program evaluation should have skills such as flexibility, integrity, honesty and problem solving, while a GS-15 employee in the same work category is expected to be proficient in influencing and negotiating, human resources management and organizational awareness.
The new program evaluation competency model stems from a provision of the Evidence Act that required OPM to identify key skills and competencies that agencies should bring on board for effective program evaluation.
To develop the competency model, OPM worked alongside the Office of Management and Budget and subject matter experts to identify the skills needed to perform program evaluation work. OPM and OMB conducted surveys and focus groups to ultimately lead to the finalized list of competencies.
In the several years following the passage of the Evidence Act, the Biden administration has continued to push the importance of incorporating data and evidence-based program analysis through, for instance, numerous data-specific goals in the President’s Management Agenda.
Data analytics are also a key skills area of the federal workforce that still necessitates significant improvements. In May, OPM released a data strategy focused on developing a governmentwide workforce that is highly proficient in data and analytics skills.
Many of the skills included in the new program evaluation competency model overlap with competency models for other governmentwide positions. OPM published a large compendium of competencies earlier this year that updated the lists to reflect the Biden administration’s push toward a skills-based federal workforce.
In July, OPM took steps toward creating a skills and competency model for work in artificial intelligence as well.
Skills development of the federal workforce is crucial to the performance of all agencies. More than half of the problem areas on the Government Accountability Office’s latest high-risk list stem from issues of mission-critical skills gaps.
“Progress to close skills gaps will require demonstrated improvements in agencies’ capacity to perform workforce planning, foster employee engagement, train staff effectively and recruit and retain the appropriate number of staff with the necessary skills” GAO said in its high-risk list report, published in April.
After the release of the new competency model, OPM plans to subsequently release a classification policy for the program evaluation series, as well as career path guidance for agencies.