Federal Workforce Trends Not So Scary When You Have a Plan

ScaredAs GAO reported in its February 2013 High Risk update, agencies must integrate strategic human capital planning with broader organizational strategic planning  to develop the talent, skill, and experience mix required to cost- effectively execute mission and program goals. Most critical to the strategic human capital plan is the workforce planning that informs it.

Workforce planning has become so increasingly complex in the Federal Government, however, that it’s scarier than Freddy Kruger reading you a bedtime story. Why is it complex?

  • Invasion of the Boomer Snatchers: 31 percent of Feds will be eligible to retire by 2017, taking with them vast institutional knowledge, networks, and technical expertise. Experts have been expecting the retirement wave since 2012, but both a downgrade in economic circumstances and an upgrade in physical well-being have led to many Boomers working longer than they had initially planned. Once their boomerang children finally move out and their portfolios recover from The Great Recession, however, boomers are going to want to spend their time enjoying their retirement. A mass exodus is very difficult challenge in workforce planning. Including Phased Retirement programs as part of your workforce plan may be your secret weapon in combatting the brain drain.
  • The Skills Changeling:  The skills needed in Government are changing. The GAO reports “an increase in employment from 2004 to 2012 occurred within occupational categories that require higher skill and educational levels.” This trend is expected to continue as demand for professional occupations (e.g., doctors and scientists) and administrative occupations (e.g., financial and program managers) increases. Add to that cyber and the face of the Federal workforce is changing more quickly than ever before. HR professionals must not only account for the change in the workforce plan, but also consider how recruiting and retention needs may change.
  • Pennywise: The private sector has not been clowning around with salary increases and the Federal Government has not been keeping up, increasing the war for talent. According to Mercer’s 2014/2015 US Compensation Planning Survey, the average raise in base pay is expected to be 3.0% in 2015, up slightly from 2.9% in 2014, 2.8% in 2013 and 2.7% in 2012. According to the GAO, “Spending on total government-wide compensation for each full-time equivalent (FTE) position grew by an average of 1.2 percent per year…  In terms of employee pay per FTE, spending rose at an average annual rate of 1 percent per year.” Certainly, civil servants aren’t in it for the money, but total rewards matter. More than ever managers need to find non-monetary ways to motivate and reward employees.
  • The Incredible Shrinking Government: Government has had to do more with less for some time now and that trend will continue. BLS projects that the size of the Federal workforce will drop by another 13 percent over the next nine years. The United States population, however, is expected to continue to increase at about 0.77% a year, which is about 9% over the next nine years. The Federal Government will have fewer employees servicing more customers. This makes it imperative that HR has a workforce plan that has the right skills and the right mix of employees to maximize efficiency.
  • Child’s Play: The millennials aren’t children anymore and have their own unique generational identity. Millennials like Government work and value service, but they also thrive on change and are not likely to stay in the same position long, only an average of 3.8 years. Moreover, only 34 percent reported that they have opportunities to advance in Government. Human resources leaders need to present career paths to Millennials so they see the opportunity to have diverse work experience without leaving the Federal Government. According to a multitude of studies including PwC’s NextGen Study, millennials also value work-life fit differently than previous generations, which may require coaching to help them achieve their work-life goals. Human resources leaders need to adjust programs and policies to meet millennial’s needs or face high turnover, higher recruiting costs, and a less effective workforce.

So, given all these scary statistics, what’s an HR leader to do? The trick (or treat) is not to respond to every little fright. It’s all about having a plan. Your plan must:

  • Integrate with your agency’s overall strategic plan
  • Consider your agency’s constraints such as regulatory, budget, and technology
  • Identify the critical skills and competencies required both now and in the future
  • Incorporate talent management to address gaps in skills and competencies
  • Include organization development from culture change to structural changes if needed to address changing workforce requirements as well as the changing needs of the people who make up the workforce
  • Align all aspects of the Federal Human Capital Lifecycle from recruiting to rewards
  • Include both leading and lagging measures to evaluate the success of the plan
  • And, finally, have executive buy-in

Workforce planning isn’t so scary, after all! How is your organization preparing for the changing workforce planning environment?

Wishing you and your family a Happy Halloween and a wonderful Dia de los Muertos!

Audit Questions Contractor Teaming Arrangement Oversight

Capitol from Supreme CourtA schedule contractor teaming arrangement (CTA) is an agreement between two or more Multiple Award Schedule (MAS) contractors to work together in meeting a particular ordering agency’s needs. The arrangements are set up by the team members independent of the government, and allows for firms to compete for work they would not otherwise qualify for, as the arrangements are structured to complement each firm’s capabilities.

As long as the final agreement doesn’t conflict with each team member’s individual schedule contracts, the contractors are free to structure teaming agreements in the way that produces the best solution. But a recent audit from GSA’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) raised concern over how closely Federal Acquisition Service (FAS) contracting officials are able to monitor and administer contractor teaming arrangements. It could be worth paying attention: it’s a safe bet that issues identified with proper oversight of teaming arrangements aren’t isolated to FAS.

“Assisted Acquisitions contracting officers,” the audit says, “have been provided minimal instruction and have received no formal training relating to the award and administration of team arrangements.” FAS does issue some guidance on team arrangements, but it is “suggestive rather than mandatory.”

Contracting officers readily admitted to auditors that they have little experience with teaming agreement awards, resulting in some examples of improper administration. In one RFQ, a team of contractors responded but did not include a teaming agreement. While FAS guidance recommends that contractor team arrangements submit teaming agreements along with their proposals, it isn’t a requirement. This can cause issues for both contractors — who may be responding incorrectly — and contracting officers — who may not realize it is a teaming arrangement at all.

In another example, auditors found that contracting officers were only doing excluded parties list system (EPLS) checks on the team leads and not every member of the CTA. This gave light to another issue: system limitations. The FAR requires that contracting officers review each team member for exclusions in SAM (FAR 9.405). But the systems tracking CTAs only allow the team lead to be the contractor identified as the awardee, the report says. In teaming arrangements, each member of the team is considered a prime contractor and can interact with the government accordingly.

Since only one contractor in a teaming agreement can be identified in the system as the awardee, it can impact a CO’s knowledge of a particular arrangement and the effective administration of a contract. For example, the performance ratings for the entire team could be assigned to the team lead in the system and not to each member of the team performing the work. In another example of confusion, auditors found that a team lead submitted charges for subcontractors even though the charges were actually for team members. This can be very confusing, as individual team members—each a prime itself—can also have their own subcontractors under a teaming arrangement.

To GSA, this was yet another indication of “a misunderstanding of teaming arrangements and how they should be administered.” To improve the oversight and administration of contractor teaming arrangements, the audit made several suggestions. If the issues outlined in GSA’s audit of MAS teaming arrangements sound at all familiar, it could pay off to heed the advice in boning up guidance and understanding of contractor team arrangements.

The audit recommended that FAS:

  • Develop policies specifically for contractor team arrangements
  • Provide instruction and training to contracting officers and contractors on the use of team arrangements
  • Develop a central internal identification and tracking methodology for team arrangements

The Rules for Protesting ID/IQ Task Orders


With increasing attention on Federal IT procurement and the rules governing such acquisitions, it’s important to understand the rules that apply to protesting the various purchasing vehicles government agencies use to obtain IT services and solutions. A

ccording to Deniece Peterson of Deltek, for the last several years Federal agencies have been obtaining more than half of their IT solutions through indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity (ID/IQ) contacts, which means that protests are limited unless certain conditions are met.

So under what circumstances can a protest occur?


The Bar to Protesting Task Orders under $10 Million under ID/IQ Contracts

The protest process allows a large number of contracting actions to be challenged, but there is one glaring exception: task orders and delivery orders (hereafter “task orders”) placed against ID/IQ contracts. Currently, protests against task orders are not allowed unless the task order (1) increases the scope, period, or maximum value of the contract or (2) exceeds $10 million (in which case the protest may be filed only with the Government Accountability Office, GAO).

Since ID/IQ contracts are so prevalent in federal contracting, this is an enormous exception to the general rule allowing contracting actions to be protested. Starting with the passage of the Federal Acquisition Streamlining Act of 1994 until 2008, all task orders, regardless of the dollar value, were virtually immune from protests. Concerned that this level of protest immunity could encourage too many noncompetitive (and therefore potentially wasteful) contracting actions, Congress narrowed this exception by allowing the GAO (and only the GAO) to hear protests of all task orders that exceed $10 million. Regardless, considering that the government routinely issues task orders under $10 million to fill its needs, this bar to protests shields billions of dollars’ worth of contracting actions from protests every year.

Despite the bar on protests of task orders under $10 million, certain types of task order protests are always allowed. These are protests arguing that a particular task order increases the “scope, period, or maximum value” of the contract. The theory behind this “exception to the exception” is that a task order that violates one of these three limitations was not subject to competition originally, and therefore such a task order should not enjoy immunity from protest.

Further, it is important to note that the bar against task order protests does not extend to orders that are placed off GSA Schedules. See FAR Subpart 8.4.

 Excerpted with permission from Key Case Law Rules for Government Contract Formation by Patrick Butler. ©2014 by Management Concepts Inc. All rights reserved. www.ManagementConcepts.com

Effective Mentoring as Part of Phased Retirement: HR’s Role

RetirementImplementing OPM’s Phased Retirement program creates a powerful opportunity for HR to drive value and productivity through an agency mentoring program. Moreover, according to OPM, “the main purpose of Phased Retirement is to enhance the mentoring and training of the employees who will be filling the positions or taking on the duties of more experienced retiring employees.”

Federal HR professionals can rise to the challenge through a structured process for implementing the mentoring program. Although OPM has yet to write implementation guidance for the mentoring component of the Phased Retirement program beyond that it must be 20% of the retirees’ time, agency HR leaders can step up to help their agencies realize the value that Congress intended of the program. HR leaders should:

  1. Make Phased Retirement Mentoring a Part of the Overall Human Capital Strategy
    In general, mentoring program design starts with defining the objectives of the program. In the case of Phased Retirements, however, decisions must first be made about how the agency implements Phased Retirement mentoring into the existing human capital strategy and aligns to any already developed mentoring programs. HR professionals should consider:
    • How Phased Retirement will be integrated in existing plans such as succession plans;
    • Whether there are efficiencies to be gained by aligning with other programs; and
    • Whether the program be used to “pass the baton” to one person or prepare multiple people for new roles.
      Phased Retirement mentoring should not stand alone, but rather should be part of your overall strategy.
  2. Define the Objectives through the Lens of Phased Retirement
    I believe the key question is “What will the agency lose when the retirees leave”? Answer that and your primary objectives become clear. Traditional mentoring programs, such as the program at EPA, often focus on a broad range of topics such as building and retaining a well-rounded cadre of employees as well as improving communication and collaboration across organization lines. These programs are not designed to address the loss of employees. With a Phased Retirement program, the mentoring program may need to focus more on knowledge transfer more than the “softer” skills required to the job. A program focused on knowledge transfer will look very different from a traditional mentoring program such as those designed to enculturate new employees.
  3. Design the Program Using Multiple Mentoring Methods
    What is the universe of mentoring solutions available to meet the objectives? One-on-one mentoring is only one possible component of the mentoring program. Phased retirees, who work half-time, will spend 20% of their time – about a half day a week – on mentoring. This is a lot more time than participants in most mentoring programs allot for program activities. As such, HR has an opportunity to rethink mentoring based on the objectives. Some mentors may have multiple mentees. Group mentoring may also be beneficial. Consider using panel discussions, online discussion boards, and other methods to broaden the reach of the program beyond a one-on-one relationship. You may also want to consider having mentors work with mentees in entirely different departments or roles to help break down organizational silos or develop lateral career move opportunities for mentees.
  4. Design the Management for Success
    After you have a program design, you need to determine the level of effort required to support the program. How many hours of HR’s time will this take to administer? What tools do you need to run the program? How will you evaluate the program against the objectives and OPM requirements? You may also want to consider training both mentors and mentees on how to be effective. Is there budget for such training? Finally, taking all this into account, what support do you need to manage the program? Many agencies outsource their mentoring programs or components thereof due to resources constraints or cost-savings. It may be worth doing the analysis to determine whether it’s more cost-effective to outsource or keep it in-house.
  5. Build Enthusiasm for Mentoring
    A retirement wave is in its essence a change management effort and the fundamentals hold true for Phased Retirement mentoring. A key component of all change programs is to have executive buy-in. Identify senior agency and divisional leaders to tout the program. It can’t just be an HR project – it must be an agency initiative that promotes widespread support for the establishment of a mentoring culture. Moreover, don’t rely enthusiasm among potential retirees to spread to mentees. You’ll also need to over-communicate the program benefits to soon to be retiring mentors and mentees alike. Don’t forget about those not included as mentees. Does this mean they aren’t part of a succession plan? Plan to have a change management and communication plan complete before the implementation.
  6. Evaluate and Adjust in Real-Time
    Whatever you design, be sure you can evaluate it as close to real-time as possible. This will allow you to adjust the program as needed. Your evaluation plan should be completed as part of the design, but taking the time to do the evaluation and adjust course is required for a successful program. This is often where balls get dropped – the program is implemented and resources have been reassigned. An opportunity for improvement may be identified, but there’s no team remaining to make the change. Be sure to include evaluation and adjustment as part of the program, not as an afterthought or “in case of emergency.”

What is your agency doing to prepare to implement Phased Retirement’s mentoring components? What do you think will be key to a successful program?

Help Your Federal Team Hit More Home Runs

sb10068701ab-001According to a new report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), performance information’s effect on Federal managers’ decision-making has remained largely unchanged in six years.

Despite the increase in the amount, variety, and availability of performance data and analytics tools to drive decisions, performance data’s promise in the Federal Government has not yet been realized. There are many theories as to why this is the case, but I would argue that the shift to data-driven decisions in the Federal Government requires disruption of the mental models most commonly used in making decisions.

Despite the Nats’ absence from the World Series this year, Major League Baseball serves as a great example of how disrupting a mental model may enable a leader to improve decision-making and organizational performance. One recent revolution in the baseball world is the now-accepted practice of applying empiricism and analytics to performance data, to drive strategy and tactics. Analytics helps baseball executives find hidden value in player effectiveness and situational game tactics that lead to the ultimate criteria of success: wins on the field.

The rise of this new field — Sabermetrics — pioneered by Bill James, has been well-documented in Michael Lewis’s 2003 book-turned-movie, Moneyball. Embracing this approach — gathering data and performing analysis to determine what skills and behaviors contribute to wins on the field — is one of the things that help teams from smaller markets bring greater competitive parity to the game.

For over a century, baseball talent evaluators relied on conventional wisdom to assess players using generally accepted criteria regarding the “5-Tools” of baseball: running speed, arm strength, hitting for average, hitting for power, and fielding. During a player’s early career, scouts would assess all players on these traditional success criteria. Usually these assessments were made simply by watching the players perform. Little effort was made to systematically gather data in a way that permits players to be compared. Despite these haphazard attempts to measure raw skills, some players who excelled on the 5-Tools metrics were not able to perform under game conditions to produce wins. This indicates that while raw tools were important, they were inadequate as sole predictors of success.

In addition, baseball’s conventional wisdom — informally referred to as “the Book” — around game tactics: when to bunt, steal a base, position the defense for certain hitters, and even make player substitutions has relied on time worn, but not necessarily rigorously tested presumptions about what actually produced wins. By asking the same questions for over a century, baseball scouts and executives relied on consistent criteria, analyzed in the same way, to make player assessments.

Over the last 15 years, more focused measurement, the rise of behavioral economics, and the improved willingness and ability to perform statistical analysis are testing these assumptions and causing new wisdom to be applied to baseball. This approach is yielding greater insights into what skills, behaviors, and tactics lead to team wins. While 15 years ago very few teams would have been aware of or invested in this approach to discovering and benefitting from objective truths about baseball, now every team has staff dedicated to measurement and video and statistical analysis to identify and leverage a winning edge.

By scouts and executives shifting their viewpoint, asking different questions, measuring performance differently, and then performing analysis on the data they measured, they learned to value different things that had been proven to affect performance.

Federal leaders can shift their viewpoint to apply lessons learned from the MLB by:

  • Being Prepared for Data to Dispel Beliefs
    Every organization has tightly held beliefs that are, in fact, not true. As you shift to data-driven decisions, it’s likely that some organizational myths will be disproven. Individuals may hold on to those beliefs tightly despite strong contrary evidence. Part of your role as the leader is to take your team on the journey of not only questioning data when it is counter to anecdotal evidence, but also accepting the truths the data reveals.
  • Assessing Situations and Options Based on Analytics
    Just as assessment of a player evolved from visual assessment to quantitative measures, leaders can seek out data to inform assessment of situations and options in decision-making. Ask your team to be prepared to defend their recommendations with analysis results. Ask about the data and analytics they used to inform their recommendation and be sure it’s from a valid source.
  • Reexamining the measures of performance
    Are the performance measure you use driving achievement of mission objectives? If they aren’t, which measures do? As a leader, the more real-team reliable performance measures you can access, the better you can drive performance. This approach applies both to organizational performance and assessment of individuals. In the case of your team members however, consider whether the competencies on which you assess your team members are the right ones to drive performance. If they aren’t, work with your HR team to change to those that get the job done right.
  • Evaluating the Effectiveness of Data-Driven Decisions
    As part of your regular hot wash processes, evaluate how effectively your team used analytics in making decisions. Did using analytics result in better decisions than just instinct? How could you change the game with the data you have now? If analytics is not helping to improve performance, determine what can be done differently. Sometimes there is an issue with data quality. Sometimes teams need better analytics skills. Most often, however, it’s a combination of both.

Bottom Line:  Measure more intentionally, ask better questions, and you may find that you get different — more insightful — answers that can lead to significantly improved performance in the areas that matter.