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Andrew LaVanway

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Posted: 5/21/2014 - 2 comment(s) [ Comment ] - 0 trackback(s) [ Trackback ]
Tags: Workforce



The Federal workforce is in freefall. 42 percent of Federal employees are 50+ (compared to 6 percent under 30) and nearly one-third will be eligible to retire in 2017 – including two-thirds of the SES corps. IT talent is already leaving in droves – Takai out, East out;  Blackman, Trippie, and Coleman already gone. Thousands of Federal jobs sitting open, for months on end, with no acceptable talent to be found. Thousands.

The consequences? Dire. If you draw a line that starts at, cuts through, swings by Sentinel, and skirts through the pages of secret VA patient backlogs, you’ll see that line ending at a vacant senior leadership position. Or worse, someone in over their head.

Budgets and problems are bigger and tougher, but the workforce is smaller and smaller. By 2015, Federal agencies will spend $905 million per employee vs. $53 million per employee in 1974. Net net, Federal agencies aren’t planning to fail less – they are only planning to manage failure more effectively.

Yo Joe!
Sure, knowing is half the battle. But we already know all of this. Type “aging federal workforce” into your Googler and it will return >1,600,000 pages. Reminds me of the steamroller scene in Austin Powers.

The other half is, well, the battle. And finally, there is good news to report on that front. In April, the Partnership for Public Service and Booz Allen Hamilton released a seminal, “Building the Enterprise: A New Civil Service Framework.” Go download it and read it.

The diagnosis is clear, direct, and apt: The GS system was designed more than 60 years ago for a world that no longer exists. Today, that system prevents access to talent, removes accountability, punishes high performers, and locks civil servants into a skill set that is nearly useless beyond the Beltway.

Beat the System
It doesn’t take a six sigma master blackbelt to formulate the answer here: If the system is broken, fix the system. Here are the recommendations:

  • Create one civil service system – with an elastic clause that gives room for flexibility
  • Make that system vastly simpler: Move 15 layers to five, and make progress based upon capability and not size of employee empire
  • Make compensation competitive and sensitive to market changes. This looks great as long as salaries go up and down
  • Tie performance bonuses to, wait for it, performance: Any rational argument against this one?
  • Take the “excepted” hiring process that is working so well in certain agencies and make it available to every Federal agency
  • Completely recast agency senior leadership, replacing political appointees with proven leaders with experience in managing government agencies

The Linchpin – Final Recommendation
The last recommendation, as it turns out, is the one that really matters: Ensure greater accountability and speedier justice for poor employees.

As it turns out, the greatest deterrent to high performance is not a lack of reward for great work, it is continued acceptance (and promotion) of mediocrity. If you want high performers, give them the opportunity to work with and for other high performers.

Congratulations to the Partnership and to Booz for a workable, achievable path forward. The horse is at the water, the question is will it drink.


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Andrew LaVanway provides government budget and policy insight for MeriTalk. A former House Appropriations staffer, LaVanway has been active at the intersection of government and technology since 1996.


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