OPM looking to take agencies’ data innovations governmentwide

After releasing a new data strategy in May, the Office of Personnel Management is looking for innovative agency ideas to take to scale.

After the Office of Personnel Management set data goals to reach over the next several years, the agency is looking for new ideas from other agencies to take to scale.

OPM’s fiscal 2023-2026 data strategy, initially released in May, hinges on developing proficiencies in data and analytics skills for the federal workforce, as well as using data to improve employee satisfaction and customer experience.

And while OPM houses data on talent acquisition, benefits, demographics and much more for the 2.1 million current federal employees, along with federal retirees and annuitants, a few of the agency’s resident data experts said they recognize they don’t have all the answers. OPM, though, is in the unique position of bringing agencies’ ideas to a broader level, the experts said during an Aug. 22 Digital Government Institute (DGI) event.

“What we need to do is build a system where OPM can learn from the agencies that may be more advanced, in some respects, than we are,” said Steve Krauss, an OPM senior advisor for the HR Quality Service Management Office (QSMO) and the HR Line of Business (HRLOB). “But then we can institutionalize some of the things that those agencies are doing, and make that available to the community at large.”

For example, OPM recently incorporated a tool from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), first developed back in 2018, that streamlines data from the annual Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (FEVS). NIH’s Excel-based program pulls data points from each main theme of the annual OPM survey, organizes the survey results based on those themes by agency, subcomponent and office, and then shows the change in responses for a specific item over the years.

OPM employed the NIH tool when creating larger data dashboards, something the agency has been working on for the last few years.

“We’re now scaling that tool around FEVS, which we have incorporated into our ideas around the dashboards that we’re now going to build for agencies,” OPM Chief Data Officer Ted Kaouk said during the DGI event. “We’re looking for your ideas — we want the innovation to continue with OPM [and] we want to continue at the agency level.”

Developing dashboards for agencies to better understand and use their workforce data is another goal of OPM’s data strategy. A few years ago, OPM’s dashboards started out small, beginning with basic HR data. But now, OPM is looking to expand the dashboards and go even deeper. As part of the dashboard development efforts, OPM is trying to understand where there are gaps in data, too.

For instance, one area OPM is now keying in on is improving attrition data. Coming up, OPM plans to focus on how to gather and use information on workforce attrition to better understand employee engagement and satisfaction.

“Being able to focus on where attrition is most acute, what’s the makeup of those departing staff and really being able to ramp up the maturity and analytics from descriptive, to diagnostic and prescriptive,” Kaouk said. “That’s something we’re going to be focused on this year.”

OPM is also trying to expand the accessibility of the dashboards to reach more agencies.

“We began to solve some of our technology authentication challenges with access to the dashboards and the systems,” Brown said. “We just cracked the nut on some of our DOD partners, so now we’re able to share that data with them — that’s been huge.”

Along with the dashboards, OPM’s data strategy involves launching more pooled hiring actions to recruit data scientists and other professionals across agencies. There have already been a couple of successful pooled recruitment efforts in the last few years, but OPM is looking to help agencies hire even more.

But as both technology and data develop over time, hiring for these specialized positions will require OPM, and all agencies, to pivot their recruitment strategies to reach necessary skillsets in data.

“When we talk about empowering the workforce with data, you also need to be thinking about the workforce itself as a moving target, in terms of the profile of what that workforce is comprised of,” Krauss said.

“We will not be able to retain this talent if they don’t have access to the right tools and technology to be able to use the skills that they have,” Kaouk added. “Our modernization efforts directly support, especially on the technical side, retaining the talent and being able to enable them.”

Carrying out these data plans will also involve a lot of collaboration and support with OPM’s Office of the Chief Information Officer (OCIO) to help build both the technology and platforms necessary to support the work. To implement the data strategy, transparency and consistency are key, OPM Deputy CIO Melvin Brown said.

“And do it in a safe and secure manner, so that we don’t create inequities of data where we have the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots,’” Brown said during the DGI event. “We don’t want to leave agencies behind that might be less monitored than other agencies. That’s what we’re trying to do right now.”

One common challenge for agencies right now is while they can access data from certain agency components, many are missing an “enterprise view” of their data.

“That’s one area where OPM can deliver value, but it’s also an area where agencies themselves continue to lean in,” Brown said. “We’ve got every system that touches every employee, even including our Federal Employees Health Benefits (FEHB) systems. Some of them are outsourced, but we still provide oversight and management. The richness of that data is huge. How do we share that data in a way that agencies can leverage?”

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