The Highs and Lows of Strengthening the Federal Workforce

The federal government has put an emphasis on the need to strengthen the federal workforce. A strong federal workforce is one that is diverse in terms of race, gender, age, and experience. It is also made up of people with the skills needed to utilize and innovate with modern technologies. The results of diversity and hiring efforts have been mixed, providing insight into what really works in recruiting and retaining a strong federal workforce.

Help Wanted = Data Wanted

NASA has been working on improving the diversity of its workforce for over a decade. However, a recent report showed that despite all of the focus and effort, little progress has been made. The report found that demographics of NASA's workforce remain mostly unchanged since 2012 with only small increases of 1% to 2% for some demographic groups. NASA continues to lag behind the general federal workforce demographics with women making up 35% of the NASA workforce as compared to 45% of the general federal workforce. Women make up only 25% of NASA's scientific workforce compared to women holding 31% of scientific jobs elsewhere in government.

In looking at the lack of progress, NASA reported that data was a key contributor to the difficulties of diversified hiring. Initially, there was a focus on data gathering for reporting on hiring rather than a deeper focus on truly changing how the agency worked to integrate diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility (DEIA) into day-to-day work. The focus on reporting did show that NASA did not have the right DEIA workforce data to understand how and why demographics were (or were not) shifting. NASA is rolling out a new Enterprise Data Platform that will replace the current siloed data systems, providing a full agency view of workforce trends and demographics.

However, the use of platforms for hiring is not a guarantee of success. The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) launched the Cyber Talent Management System to streamline the application process for high-paying, mission critical technical positions. Since going online in November 2021, the platform has resulted in just 80 hires. Outside of the platform, CISA has been more successful hiring 516 people for technical roles in 2022 and is on pace to exceed that in 2023.

Going Back to the Basics

Agencies are finding that implementing traditional job training programs like internships, apprenticeships, and fellowships are helping get the right people in the right jobs with the right skill sets. This type of hiring also opens up the applicant pool as degree requirements can be more easily waived. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has begun "frantically" recruiting from fellowships like the TechCongress and Senior Congressional Innovation programs with great success.

Agencies are also finding that their retired workforce can provide a solution to future workforce needs. Federal employees are eligible to retire (and collect benefits) after 30 years of service. This leaves many people retiring from government in their mid fifties. Many of these people still want to work, but perhaps with a reduced schedule and responsibilities. Retirement policies have made this difficult. By law, federal retirees must have the amount of their retirement annuity deducted from their pay for post retirement jobs. This means that if a federal retiree earning a $50,000 retirement annuity goes back to work for an agency for a $75,000 annual paycheck, the new government salary is reduced by that $50,000 annuity meaning they would earn just $25,000/year for a $75,000 job. The Department of Defense and several intelligence agencies have been granted waivers, allowing them to pay retirees a full salary on top of retirement benefits. Extending this across government may provide solutions to key hiring gaps.

GovEvents and GovWhitePapers have a variety of resources that speak to the successes and challenges in growing and maintaining a diverse federal workforce.

  • The AI Revolution in Government: How It's Changing the Landscape of Work (July 12, 2023; webcast) - Thought leaders from government, academia, and industry discuss the opportunities and challenges faced by government, workforce, and American society as AI continues its advance into mainstream use. Sessions will address educational requirements for incorporating AI into both governmental functions and learning activities.
  • Women as Leaders (July 19, 2023; virtual) - This workshop series highlights the severity of gender inequality in the workplace, the negative implications for business, the challenges and barriers that women leaders face, and offers tools and strategies that can be integrated immediately to overcome these barriers.
  • FDR Training (August 7-10, 2023; Orlando, FL) - Receive tailored, in-depth training on your top workplace challenges, including telework and leave, DEIA, discipline, and much more.
  • Cybersecurity and Talent Retention: Challenges and Successes of Remote Work (white paper) - Learn what government experts at a roundtable shared about the challenges and successes with managing, retaining and recruiting talent in an evolving work environment.
  • The New Human Age: 2023 Workforce Trends Report (white paper) - Amidst the growing digitization of work and the workforce, ManpowerGroup's latest report reveals that although technology may be a great enabler, humans are still the catalyst to the future. Learn more about the key forces and trends impacting the future of work, along with insights on how employers can attract and retain talent in this new age.
  • 3 Keys to Building a Workforce That Works (white paper) - Today's job seekers are looking for more than a salary and benefits. They are in pursuit of an environment where they feel heard and are shown they are valued. In the vein of being valued, they expect flexibility in work location and schedule. These attributes are not only important to new hires, but also are key to keeping current employees happy and engaged with an organization. This report examines three key areas of focus for organizations looking to become an employer of choice for current and future talent.

For more workforce diversity insights, check out additional resources on GovEvents and GovWhitePapers.

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