VA staff shortages show no job is menial

Today I’m focusing on a federal occupation that we won’t write much about. They never appear on The Federal Drive with Tom Temin. I’m betting most employees in nearly every organization doesn’t notice or think about them much.

They’re not paid nearly as much as program managers, CIOs, chief acquisition officers and so on. But agency operations would get pretty funky without them. And, surprisingly, in at least one large agency these people have become hard...

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Today I’m focusing on a federal occupation that we won’t write much about. They never appear on The Federal Drive with Tom Temin. I’m betting most employees in nearly every organization doesn’t notice or think about them much.

They’re not paid nearly as much as program managers, CIOs, chief acquisition officers and so on. But agency operations would get pretty funky without them. And, surprisingly, in at least one large agency these people have become hard to recruit and retain.

In an interview airing on Monday’s Federal Drive, Virginia Senator Mark Warner says he supports the across-the-board 4.6% pay raise that’s allowed to go forward in the 2023 appropriations bills in both chambers. There’s inflation to deal with, there’s the never-ending competition between government and the private sector for good people. Everyone is dealing with a labor market that, for whatever reason, puts would-be employees in the driver’s seat.

Much of our reporting covers agencies having trouble getting enough highly skilled people like cyberscurity-niks, border patrol agents, or digital services designers. The Air Force has trouble keeping pilots, who prefer the glamor of humping a 737 to Des Moines Thursday night.

But what about positions way down on the pay and required skills levels? Like, say, janitors.

Perhaps not surprising, but often overlooked, is that without janitors, or as the government calls them, custodial workers, and other people to maintain facilities, the workplace can turn bad pretty fast. Especially if that workplace is a hospital.

At least one agency has a severe staffing shortage in that particular occupational code. Namely, the Veterans Health Administration. We know this because by statute, the VA Office of Inspector General must report on severe occupational staffing shortages yearly. The OIG looks at 139 facilities and 285 occupations. The latest count turned up 2,622 shortages, 500 more than a year earlier.

And get this: 96, or two thirds, of VA facilities cited “custodial worker” as a severe staffing shortage. Medical support assistants, which are Title 38 clinical jobs, came in second, with 88 of the facilities naming that as a severe occupational shortage.

VA has its own direct hiring authority to speed things up for people like nurses, psychologists, medical support assistants. It has OPM direct hiring authority for police officers, HR specialists, even boiler plant operators. Maintenance workers are on that list, but with the convoluted set of statutory definitions that encrust federal hiring, it’s not clear whether VA medical centers could use direct hiring authority for custodial workers.

If you thought custodians or janitors just push a broom, think again. VA’s deputy assistant IG for health investigations, Julie Kroviak, told me such employees get significant and ongoing training to be able to service VA medical centers. What might be going on, is that they can get better pay for the same required skills at a non-VA hospital, or the same pay but with simpler demands.

Janitors are also a big part of VA’s drive to improve customer experience. Who would want medical care in a place with dirty floor or overflowing trash cans? For that matter, good and consistent facility maintenance helps enable doctors, nurses and other clinicians to do their own best work.

Nearly Useless Factoid

By Abigail Russ

There are only five colleges that have produced both a president and a Super Bowl-winning quarterback.

Delaware
President: Joe Biden (2021)
QB: Joe Flacco (Won Super Bowl XLVII)

Miami University of Ohio
President: Benjamin Harrison (1889-93)
QB: Ben Roethlisberger (Won Super Bowls XL, XLIII)

Michigan
President: Gerald Ford (1974-77)
QB: Tom Brady (Won Super Bowls XXXVI, XXXVIII, XXIX, XLIX, LI, LIII)

Naval Academy
President: Jimmy Carter (1977-81)
QB: Roger Staubach (Won Super Bowls VI, XII)

Stanford
President: Herbert Hoover (1929-33)
QB: Jim Plunkett (Won Super Bowls XV, XVIII)
QB: John Elway (Won Super Bowls XXXII, XXXIII)

Source: CBS Sports

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