HReinvented: NRC aims to stay on top as ‘best place to work’

Over the last several years, one federal agency has ranked highest in government-wide employee surveys as the \"best place to work in the federal government\": ...

By Max Cacas
Federal News Radio

Time and time again over the last several years, one federal agency stands out as the choice of employees as “the best place to work in the federal government” in government-wide worker surveys.

That agency is the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, a 4,000-worker independent agency based in Rockville, Maryland.

But in an era where the Obama White House is vowing to make government service “cool again”, and Office of Personnel Management director John Berry is promising sweeping reforms in hiring and retention policies, how does the NRC plan on staying on top of its game as an “employer of choice”?

As part of our special week-long series “HR: Reinvented,” Federal News Radio spoke to Miriam Cohen, Deputy Chief Human Capital Officer at the NRC.

Cohen says, for one thing, a recently approved workplace initiative, negotiated with the National Treasury Employees Union, is part of their overall strategy.

One of the recent enhancements we initiated in the agency is a flexible work schedule we call “Newflex”. We think that in today’s environment, Generation X, Y, the “Millenials” like flexibility in their work schedules. We have a situation where we allow employees to start work as early as 6 AM, work as late as 11 o’clock at night, work a combination of “at work” in a traditional situation and telework. We think that providing that sort of flexible work environment will keep us very competitive with other federal agencies, and even some private sector organizations.

Cohen says that Newflex is available to almost all of NRC’s staff, except, she says, emergency operations officers, and other workers with special time and attendance requirements. She adds that a six-month review is currently under way to measure the effect of Newflex on the NRC workforce, and from that survey, they hope to get some real-world data on just how many employees are taking advantage of the program.

Human capital experts agree that an important key to the success of any new initiative is buy-in from the most senior levels of management in any organization. Cohen says the NRC is “incredible in the sense that we have outstanding top level committment and support for employees.” She says that NRC management embraces a “spirit of continuous improvement”, and are consistently engaged with employees.

Many of the hiring and retention reforms now being proposed by OPM director Berry were pioneered by the NRC. Cohen tells Federal News Radio that “we’ve already seen some of the successes of the streamlining and reform efforts. We did a lean six sigma study of our hiring process and took advantage of that opportunity to make improvements where we could.”

She says NRC is prepared to share its hard-won experience with hiring reforms with the rest of the federal government. Indeed, Cohen adds that her boss, NRC chief human capital officer Jim McDermott, is part of an implementation task force with OPM as officials there begin the task of reforming the hiring process across the government.

Cohen concludes that the target audience of these reforms, younger people just out, or recently out of college, will be the first beneficiaries of hiring reform.

“We know that there’s a lot of consternation that when you apply for a federal job, you don’t know where to go, is very complicated, you might apply, you might not hear back from a job, and if you do, you get a vacancy announcement that is 5-10 pages long. We think that the reform effort that OPM is undertaking is going to make it much easier for an average person that is looking for a federal job to submit a resume,” and apply for a federal job.

She adds, “I think one of the biggest challenges is going to be for federal managers to re-orient themselves to be able to discrern the knowledge, skills and abilities from a person’s resume” alone, as opposed to current practice in which applicants are requred to submit a “KSA” form directly outlining those attributes.

“With the reform effort, you’re going to have to look at some very different information, and I think the hiring managers are going to have to be adept at going through the resumes and identifying those skills they need for that position, so I think there’s going to be a lot of training involved for managers as well.”

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