Agencies have new ways to consider workforce improvements with OMB’s final learning agenda

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The Office of Management and Budget released its final version of the first-ever governmentwide learning agenda, to help implement the Biden administration’s broad management goals.

The learning agenda, which OMB finalized on Sept. 15, created research questions to help advance the priorities specifically outlined in the President’s Management Agenda.

The launch of the final learning agenda followed OMB’s request for public input and its release of a short survey, which helped refine and develop the questions from the initial draft of the learning agenda.

“We received responses from individuals, academics, associations and non-profit and other organizations. Commenters offered revisions to the draft questions, shared articles and background reading, and even suggested new questions,” wrote Jason Miller, OMB’s deputy director for management, in the final version of the learning agenda.

Combining targeted questions for each area of focus in the PMA, along with highlighted questions from agency-specific learning agendas, OMB said it plans to use the document to help agencies implement the three PMA pillars: strengthening the federal workforce, delivering equitable and secure customer service and managing the business of government.

OMB focused the learning agenda on identifying evidence gaps related to advancing PMA priorities. Additionally, much of the work in the learning agenda will focus on efforts that incorporate cross-agency collaboration. The goals of the learning agenda will center on reinforcing a focus on learning, bridging silos and catalyzing innovation.

“In support of the PMA vision of an equitable, effective and accountable government that delivers results for all, the PMA learning agenda will address critical evidence gaps and encourage research to close those gaps within, beyond and in partnership with the federal government,” OMB wrote.

The governmentwide learning agenda followed agencies’ release of their individual learning agendas, a requirement under the 2018 Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act. In those agendas, more than half of agencies included questions on the federal workforce.

“Many of these questions could leverage the recent workplace and hiring flexibilities that were implemented in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. New evidence on these questions could guide decisions at agencies and may also have relevance for employers and organizations beyond the federal government,” OMB wrote.

For the goal of strengthening the federal workforce, many of the questions centered on approaches to hiring that result in a high-performing and diverse workforce, along with strategies to improve retention and engagement at agencies. One of the questions also focused on how to reduce burnout and attrition among federal employees.

“All of these efforts are critical in communicating and coordinating what evidence is needed and how it can be used to improve the working of government. Looking ahead, as these learning agendas spur research, OMB will work to share findings with leadership across the government to inform decision making,” OMB wrote.

Many of the questions also focused on the PMA’s strategy to improve customer experience and federal services. More than half of agencies also included questions on customer experience and service delivery in their individual learning agendas.

Some of the questions OMB developed for the learning agenda in the customer experience category asked how to effectively reduce administrative burdens for people in underserved communities, and how the government can enhance public trust.

“There are many unanswered questions about how to best measure trust and understand how different elements (such as speed, quality, ease, transparency) drive trust for different types of service interactions,” OMB wrote.

Finally, the Biden administration emphasized its focus on advancing equity in federal services. In addition to the executive order on advancing equity in federal services, the learning agenda presented questions to help agencies learn how the priority to advance equity can benefit everyone, OMB said.

Notably, in their individual learning agendas, most agencies included questions on equity, asking how it can tie back to customer experience, and improving services and programs. Much of the administration’s emphasis on equity is also visible in agencies’ equity action plans, a governmentwide effort that the White House launched in April.

And the work on OMB’s learning agenda isn’t over. OMB said it will continue to consider the public’s input for the new agenda, including through sharing new and existing research, to start answering some of the key questions.

“Whether you are a researcher, student, practitioner, industry expert, public servant, a member of a community or philanthropic organization, or just passionate about improving government, your role in this process is critical and does not end here. The federal government needs your help to answer these questions,” Miller wrote.

You can read OMB’s final learning agenda here.

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