Leading Practices in Human Capital Management
Federal agencies are facing a range of ongoing and newly emerging risks and challenges driven by fiscal constraints, changing demographics, and the evolving role of the public sector. Agencies are also in the midst of a retirement wave. To help agencies overcome these challenges, GAO has identified leading practices in five key areas of human capital management: (1) Strategic Workforce Planning, (2) Workforce Training, (3) Performance Management, (4) Recruitment and Hiring, and (5) Diversity.
Strategic Workforce Planning
In order for federal agencies to meet 21st century challenges, the federal government must (1) align agencies human capital programs with their current and emerging mission and programmatic goals and (2) develop long-term strategies for acquiring, developing, and retaining staff to achieve programmatic goals. See GAO-04-39
- Involve human resources professionals and key stakeholders in strategic and workforce planning efforts, as well as in any agency-wide restructuring efforts.
- Ensure HR staff have the competencies and resources to proactively partner and consult with line managers.
- Identify external resources, such as contractors, or consult with others, such as Congressional decision-makers, when developing human capital strategies.
- Have a system in place to continually assess and improve human capital planning and investment and assess the system's impact on mission accomplishment, and hold managers accountable for implementing human capital plans and overall human capital management.
- Determine the critical skills and competencies its workforce needs to achieve current and future agency goals and missions and identify gaps, including those that training and development strategies can help address.
- Establish and maintain an inventory of employee skills and competencies; have a process to address skills/competency gaps; and have succession plans for leadership and other critical positions.
- Approach workforce planning strategically, basing decisions on mission needs, customer expectations, workload, and skills and competencies of the workforce. Human capital strategies should avoid excess organizational layers and redundant operations, and maintain a balance between supervisory and non-supervisory positions.
- Have linkages between the strategic workforce plan and the agency's strategic plan.
Training involves developing a strategic approach that establishes training priorities and leverages investment in training to achieve agency results; identifying specific training initiatives that improve individual and agency performance; ensuring the effective and efficient delivery of training opportunities in an environment that supports learning and change; and demonstrating how training efforts contribute to improved performance and results. See GAO-04-546G
- Incorporate the results of its workforce planning efforts into its planning and front-end analysis of training and development strategies.
- Conduct formal analysis to choose between centralized and decentralized management of training programs; between designing training programs internally and using an external source; and among different mixes of training delivery mechanisms (e.g. classroom, computer-based, on the job, etc.).
- Have leaders who communicate the importance of training and encourage employees to participate in training activities.
- Have a training and development unit that is held accountable, along with the line executives, for the enhanced performance of the workforce.
- Use measures of quantitative and qualitative performance data as part of a systematic process to assess the results achieved through training and development efforts. Measures should clearly link to organizational goals.
- Track cost, benefit, delivery, and performance data for training programs consistently across the organization.
Performance Management systems are used to plan work and set individual performance expectations, monitor performance throughout the year through ongoing feedback, develop individuals' capacities to perform, and rate and reward individual performance. In addition, performance management systems can help the organization manage on a day-to-day basis by helping achieve results and accelerate change in the organization. See GAO-03-488
- Align individual performance expectations that identify specific levels of performance or targets with organizational and crosscutting goals.
- Provide and routinely use objective performance information to track progress toward achieving organizational priorities and to compare individuals' performance against organizational goals and other individuals.
- Require and track follow-up actions on performance gaps (e.g. to address organizational priorities and hold individuals responsible for making progress on their priorities).
- Define competencies that individuals need to effectively contribute to organizational results.
- Link pay increases, awards, and bonuses to organizational unit and individual performance, using a performance management system that makes meaningful distinctions in individual performance (e.g. through ratings and/or bonuses).
- Involve employees and other stakeholders in the development, modification, and periodic evaluation of the performance management system.
- Maintain continuity during transitions through a performance management system that reinforces individual leaders' accountability for organizational goals.
- Have safeguards that ensure the transparency or fairness (e.g. independent reasonableness reviews, internal grievance processes) of the performance management system.
Recruitment and Hiring
Recruitment and Hiring involves developing and implementing strategies to advertise positions and attract top candidates; assessing applicants' relative competencies or knowledge, skills, and abilities against job related criteria to identify the most qualified candidates; using a variety of candidate assessment tools, such as interviews, to make a selection; and coordinating the process of bringing a new hire on board. For example, candidate assessment tools include written exams, performance tests, and interviews. Agencies should regularly evaluate this process using performance measurements and feedback instruments and make the necessary adjustments to ensure the organization hires the right people, at the right place, at the right time. See GAO-08-762T
- Develop customized strategies to recruit highly specialized and hard-to-fill positions.
- Use vacancy announcements and Web postings that are clear, user friendly, and comprehensive.
- Have an automated hiring process which uses computerized systems to prescreen, rate, and rank applicants.
- Conduct regular surveys to gauge applicant and hiring manager satisfaction levels with the hiring process and its results.
Diversity Management, in this context, is a process intended to create and maintain a positive work environment where the similarities and differences of individuals are valued, so that all can reach their potential and maximize their contributions to an organization's strategic goals and objectives. A high-performance organization relies on a dynamic workforce with the requisite talents, multidisciplinary knowledge, and up-to-date skills to ensure that it is equipped to accomplish its mission and achieve its goals. Such organizations typically (1) foster a work environment in which people are enabled and motivated to contribute to mission accomplishment and (2) provide both accountability and fairness for all employees. To accomplish these objectives, high performance organizations are inclusive, drawing on the strengths of employees at all levels and of all backgrounds an approach consistent with diversity management. See GAO-05-90
- Develop a diversity strategy and plan in alignment with the organization's strategic plan.
- Use quantitative and qualitative measures to assess the impact of various aspects of an overall diversity program.
- Hold top managers accountable for diversity by linking their performance assessment and compensation to the progress of diversity initiatives.
- Have an ongoing succession planning process for identifying and developing a diverse pool of talent for an organization's potential future leaders.
- Have a recruitment process for attracting a supply of qualified, diverse applicants for employment.
- Involve employees in supporting diversity throughout the organization (e.g. through mentoring programs, advisory groups).
- Provide training in areas such as teambuilding, communications styles, decision making, and conflict resolution to management and staff to educate them and inform them about the benefits and challenges of diversity.
GAO-08-762T: Published: May 8, 2008. Publicly Released: May 8, 2008.
To address the challenges that the nation faces, it will be important for federal agencies to change their cultures and create the institutional capacity to become high-performing organizations. This includes recruiting and retaining a federal workforce able to create, sustain, and thrive in organizations that are flatter, results-oriented, and externally focused. In 2001, GAO identified strategic...
GAO-05-90: Published: Jan 14, 2005. Publicly Released: Feb 4, 2005.
A high-performance organization relies on a dynamic workforce with the requisite talents, multidisciplinary knowledge, and up-to-date skills to ensure that it is equipped to accomplish its mission and achieve its goals. Such organizations typically (1) foster a work environment in which people are enabled and motivated to contribute to mission accomplishment and (2) provide both accountability and...
GAO-04-546G: Published: Mar 1, 2004. Publicly Released: Mar 1, 2004.
This publication supersedes GAO-03-893G, Human Capital: A Guide for Assessing Strategic Training and Development Efforts in the Federal Government (Exposure Draft), July 2003. As part of our ongoing review of agencies' efforts to address their human capital challenges, we saw the need for a framework to serve as a flexible and useful guide in assessing how agencies plan, design, implement, and eva...
GAO-04-39: Published: Dec 11, 2003. Publicly Released: Dec 11, 2003.
The federal government is in a period of profound transition and faces an array of challenges and opportunities to enhance performance, ensure accountability, and position the nation for the future. Effective results-oriented management of the government's most valued resource--its people--is at the heart of this transition. This report is part of a large body of GAO work examining issues in strat...
GAO-03-488: Published: Mar 14, 2003. Publicly Released: Apr 4, 2003.
The federal government is in a period of profound transition and faces an array of challenges and opportunities to enhance performance, ensure accountability, and position the nation for the future. High-performing organizations have found that to successfully transform themselves, they must often fundamentally change their cultures so that they are more results-oriented, customer-focused, and col...
GAO-20-61: Published: May 19, 2020. Publicly Released: May 19, 2020.
We reviewed active duty female servicemember retention and promotion in FY 2004-2018. The proportion of women in the military went up from 15.1% to 16.5% Attrition rates for female enlisted and commissioned officers were higher than for males, but this gap has narrowed Women were 28% more likely to leave the service than men Promotion rates for enlisted were slightly lower for women than men,...
GAO-20-531R: Published: May 8, 2020. Publicly Released: May 8, 2020.
The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has had trouble recruiting and retaining medical, engineering, and other science and technology professionals to support activities like biomedical and clinical research. This research can include studies of HIV, flu, and COVID-19. The 21st Century Cures Act provides additional hiring and retention authority—allowing HHS to hire up to 2,000 scie...
GAO-20-230: Published: Apr 1, 2020. Publicly Released: Apr 1, 2020.
H-2B visas are intended to help employers fill certain jobs (i.e. landscaping, seafood processing) when no U.S. workers are available. The number of visas is capped and they're generally first come, first served. Employers told us uncertainty over whether the visa process will provide enough workers hampers their operations, including their ability to plan expansions. The Homeland Security and L...
GAO-20-324: Published: Mar 11, 2020. Publicly Released: Mar 11, 2020.
The United States has increasingly used sanctions—such as freezing assets under U.S. control—to counteract threats to U.S. interests. We reviewed federal agencies’ roles in, and the resources they devote to, carrying out sanctions. Key agencies have generally received steady or growing funding. However, Treasury and State Department sanctions units have had difficulty filling positions. Tre...
GAO-19-509: Published: Aug 15, 2019. Publicly Released: Aug 15, 2019.
DOD uses human capital flexibilities—including exceptions to the traditional federal hiring process—to hire and retain many of its personnel. For example, these flexibilities might allow DOD to more quickly hire a veteran, or pay a bonus to retain an employee with specialized skills. We found that DOD has increasingly used these flexibilities over the past 5 years to hire and retain personnel...
GAO-19-696T: Published: Jul 30, 2019. Publicly Released: Jul 30, 2019.
Technology, demographics, and attitudes toward work are evolving in the private and public sectors. But federal government employment policies were designed decades ago. As a result, the government may struggle to compete for talented workers—which is one reason why federal human capital management is an issue on our High Risk list. We testified about the state of the federal civil service and...
GAO-19-602: Published: Jul 19, 2019. Publicly Released: Jul 19, 2019.
The Census Bureau is taking a different approach to the 2020 Census to try to hold down costs, while maintaining accuracy. It’s using less office space, hiring fewer field staff, and using new training methods. The Bureau appears to be on track to carry out its plans, which include leasing 248 local offices. So far it is exceeding its recruiting goals, but faces challenges such as finding partn...
GAO-19-176: Published: Mar 26, 2019. Publicly Released: Mar 26, 2019.
Fewer individual and corporate tax returns have been audited in recent years, largely because IRS doesn't have the people it needs to enforce existing tax laws while implementing new laws. As a result, billions of dollars in taxes go unpaid every year. Enforcing tax laws, a High Risk area, is critical to promoting voluntary compliance and collecting unpaid taxes. IRS's workforce is the key to add...
GAO-19-419T: Published: Mar 7, 2019. Publicly Released: Mar 7, 2019.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection employs about 45,000 law enforcement personnel. Its duties include stopping the unlawful movement of people and drugs across U.S. borders. CBP has not been able to hire and retain its required number of Border Patrol agents or meet its goals for other law enforcement jobs. This testimony addresses its recruitment, hiring, and retention efforts, including our ea...
GAO-19-50: Published: Dec 13, 2018. Publicly Released: Dec 13, 2018.
The Army, Navy, and Air Force have implemented common standards for how they determine necessary staffing levels at their health clinics for a number of medical specialties—but haven’t done so for their dental clinics. As a result, DOD dental clinics may not be staffed as efficiently as possible to provide dental care across the military services. The military services have also struggled to...