Workforce Initiative, IT Increases in President’s Budget

By Cheryl Bolen

Top and bottom performing federal employees are the targets of a new initiative that will be launched in President Donald Trump’s fiscal year 2019 budget set for release Feb. 12.

“Taking on the new mantra of hiring the best, and firing the worst, we’re creating a culture of excellence to enable higher performance,” said a statement by the Office of Management and Budget.

To assist the federal workforce, the president’s budget proposes $80.6 billion in IT funding, including $15 billion for cybersecurity. This represents a 5.2 percent and 4.1 percent increase, respectively, from the FY 2017 budget.

The budget also will include $210 million for the Technology Modernization Fund that is designed to retire antiquated IT systems across government and transition agencies to more modern IT platforms, the statement said.

Trump Asks for Help

During his 2018 State of the Union address, President Donald Trump asked for Congress’s help in fulfilling his vision for the federal workforce.

“I call on Congress to empower every Cabinet secretary with the authority to reward good workers and to remove federal employees who undermine the public trust or fail the American people,” the president said.

The administration is seeking to develop a “workforce for the 21st century” that is more flexible and responsive, said senior officials from OMB, who spoke to reporters anonymously Feb. 8 to preview that portion of the president’s budget.

As part of the president’s management agenda, OMB is looking at what is needed to manage the federal workforce so it can best meet the needs of American citizens, one official said.

The president’s management agenda spans his first term in office, so for the next three years officials will be trying to make these transitions, the official said.

“There is a commitment to making this change happen in a way that’s right, not only for the workers, but also for the American people and the taxpayers, and that’s the journey we’re starting on,” the official said.

It also must be done in a bipartisan way, which is the only way it will happen, the official said.

Compensation Fund

The president’s budget will propose authorizing a “workforce fund” specifically to be used to incentivize and retain high performers in critical fields across the government, another official said.

Officials declined to give the dollar amount of the workforce fund that will be included in the president’s budget.

Another feature of the budget will be scaling back the current tenure-based promotion system and using the savings for performance-based awards, such as bonuses, one-time awards, or merit-based step increases, an official said.

The proposal would effectively shift the window required to go from Step 1 to Step 10 from 18 years in the current system to 27 years, which is estimated to save more than $10 billion over 10 years, the official said.

There are many jobs in government where the compensation is significantly below market value, or total compensation including benefits is above market, the official said.

“So we want to move towards a more targeted, less across-the-board type of approach to compensation,” the official said.

Much of what the administration is contemplating will require legislation. However, there are areas where there is administrative discretion, or where regulation can be changed, the official said.

Retraining, Redeploying

“There have been no major changes to the core civil service structure in about 40 years,” said one official. Now, in the digital millennium, the government needs to look at performance management in a strategic way.

This means more nimble hiring practices, rewarding and retaining the best employees, and managing lower-performers “appropriately,” the official said.

Agencies also need the flexibility to align workers to the new jobs of the 21st century through “re-skilling” and redeployment, the official said.

There are a number of places in government where it is difficult to find appropriate skills, including data science, IT, cybersecurity, and law enforcement, the official said.

OMB still has much studying to do, including analyzing the gap between the skills the government has and what it needs, the official said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Cheryl Bolen in Washington, D.C. at cbolen@bgov.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Paul Hendrie at phendrie@bgov.com

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