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When it comes to the administration’s plans to modernize the federal workforce, the Trump administration is adopting the “less is more” strategy in 2019.
The administration next year will focus on fewer initiatives that hold greater impact on agencies’ efforts to create a 21st century workforce, said Margaret Weichert, acting director for the Office of Personnel Management and deputy director for management at the Office of Management and Budget.
The approach is slightly different than the plans the administration put forth when it first announced the 14 cross-agency priority goals under the President’s Management Agenda earlier this year. Subsequent updates on Performance.gov showed the administration was juggling many priorities.
To streamline some of the administration’s workforce modernization efforts, OMB will merge the Chief Human Capital Officers Council and PMA councils that have been working on this goal in 2018.
“It’s very clear to me that we have been asking a lot of CHCOs in a lot of disparate activities,” Weichert said at Tuesday morning’s annual public CHCO Council meeting. “The goal is to synchronize and align the activities that are taking place independently at the CHCO Council with the activities that are happening as part of the President’s Management Council. We may have fewer activities, [but] we will hopefully have more impactful activities.”
Weichert said she’s been asking three questions as the administration evaluates which federal workforce policy initiatives to push forward: Is the idea big enough? Is now the right time to pursue that idea? And what agency or group is best positioned to handle it?
The strategy also acknowledges that with a divided Congress in 2019, the Trump administration may need to pick its battles more closely, especially as incoming leaders on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee have promised a new approach to its handling of federal workforce issues.
“Obviously as we enter a new congressional year, our stance around policy is going to be affected by the broader political landscape, but I don’t think we will be limited in our ability to actually think deeply about all of the tools that we can use to better serve our workforce and better serve the mission,” Weichert said.
The administration plans to review progress on the goal so far and potentially revise or tweak some of them, Peter Warren, associate director for performance and personnel management at OMB, said. OMB will also reach out to individual agencies and ask for them to get involved in the PMA goal.
“We want everybody to be on board with this effort,” Warren said. “We understand each agency is different, so the way that you’re going to be on board is different.”
Hiring, reskilling and performance management and employee engagement will still be priorities for the administration.
Agencies evolve views on employee engagement
But if the discussion in the room during Tuesday’s CHCO Council meeting was any indication, agencies are beginning to evolve and mature their views on employee engagement.
The Trump administration has tasked agencies to identify the bottom 20 percent on the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey and improve employee engagement by 20 percent within the next two years.
FEVS data is a start, but chief human capital officers said their agencies are beginning to pull in different kinds of information — attrition, retention and leave without pay statistics — when evaluating employee engagement.
“We’re looking at results in different ways, because we feel like when we look only at organizational units, there are some voices that get lost,” Trevor Norris, acting chief human capital officer for the Treasury Department, said. “We’re looking at our 20 percent from an occupational series standpoint or 20 percent from tenure group. How are our less seasoned employees feeling versus our more seasoned employees?”
The Small Business Administration is bringing the entire executive suite in to evaluate the agency’s employee engagement.
“Sometimes we look at it from the aspect of HR, but we have IT challenges that are affecting how our employees perceive the organization,” Elias Hernandez, SBA chief human capital officer, said. “Similarly, the same things have happened with acquisition.”
Agencies are also having different kinds of conversations with their employees about work-life improvements.
Top leadership at the Department of Homeland Security learned financial stress, relationships at work and home and child and elder care were some of the main concerns facing their employees.
If DHS can offer more programs and opportunities to improve employees’ lives outside of the office, perhaps the department can improve productivity and overall engagement at work, said Angela Bailey, the agency’s chief human capital officer.
The department created an employee and family readiness council, which is reviewing how it could offer more child care options to employees who work for 24/7 operations such as the Transportation Security Administration, Customs and Border Protection and others.
Bailey said the Secret Service recently expressed interest in student loan repayment, tuition assistance and child care options.
“[These] are all things that Secret Service invested in these last years, and they went up by  percent,” she said. “They looked at the data, they talked to the folks and they invested in the very things that the employees said would make their life better, and pay was not one of them.”
In a survey earlier this year, OPM said federal employees who telework or use one of the available government work-life programs are generally happier and more engaged — and receive higher performance results — compared to employees who do not or cannot take advantage of those offerings.
Weichert said she sees an opportunity to pull agency resources together and enhance employee assistance and work-life programs. An investment early on for these programs could even cut back the costs of employee turnover and overtime.
“That’s a great topic for us to elevate,” she said. “If we can deal with child care issues and elder care issues, can we reduce overtime?”