Weekly Roundup: December 4-8, 2017

Friday, December 8th, 2017 - 11:53
John Kamensky Disaster Response: Brings Out the Best in Feds. Government Executive covered the SES Rank Awards ceremony.  Both SBA Administrator Linda McMahon and Homeland Security Deputy Secretary Elaine Duke praised the dedication and response of thousands of career civil servants to the three major hurricanes in recent months.

Drivers Transforming Government: People

Thursday, December 7th, 2017 - 13:54
Note:  The IBM Center recently released Seven Drivers Transforming Government, a series of essays exploring key drivers of change in government. It is based on our research and numerous insights shared by current and former government officials.  This blog is the fifth in a series of excerpts from each of the seven essays.

Weekly Roundup: November 27 – December 1, 2017

Friday, December 1st, 2017 - 10:50
John Kamensky FEMA’s Resilience Reset. RouteFifty reports: “State and local governments should own the disaster recovery process by creating integrated, outcome-based mitigation plans like Puerto Rico post-Hurricane Maria, the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s administrator said Thursday at a congressional hearing on Capitol Hill.”

Weekly Roundup: December 18 - 31, 2016

Tuesday, January 3rd, 2017 - 11:49
Tuesday, January 3, 2017 - 10:40
68 percent. Government Executive reports: “Sixty-eight percent of the federal government’s top career corps will experience their first presidential transition in January as senior executives, according to data from the Office of Personnel Management.”

USA Suite – Integrating Human Capital Management Services to Help Government Innovate and Operate Efficiently

Monday, December 19th, 2016 - 8:21
Sunday, December 18, 2016 - 16:49
OPM leads the Federal Government's efforts to improve strategic human capital management.  OPM focuses on building a professional civil service based on merit principles, where Federal employees can effectively serve the public throughout the employment life cycle – while also receiving benefits and services from “hire to retire” that are consistent with best practices.  That effort continues today as OPM embarks on a new initiative to integrate HR offerings and HR data sets across the Government.

Mick Jagger Supports Shared Services

Tuesday, September 27th, 2016 - 11:32
Tuesday, September 27, 2016 - 11:08
The breakfast included four presentations about different shared services related topics. A review Mick Jagger’s contribution to shared services is described below, following a summary of key points raised at the breakfast.

Netflix's Five Tenets of HR

Thursday, February 13th, 2014 - 14:48
Thursday, February 13, 2014 - 13:45
Former Netflix chief talent officer, Patty McCord, describes its key talent management tenets in a recent Harvard Business Review article.  While Netflix’s approach may not be suited to other companies or the work of the public sector, they are worth highlighting for no other reason than to spark some reflection and discussion.

Norman Enger interview

Wednesday, January 25th, 2006 - 20:00
"The goal of the HR line of business is essentially to free HR professionals in the government from routine back-office type work so they can focus on recruiting, motivating, training and rewarding the people in the federal workforce."
Radio show date: 
Thu, 01/26/2006
Intro text: 
Enger discusses the HR Line of Business program, its relationship to the e-government initiative in the President's Management Agenda, and its alignment with the Federal Enterprise Architecture. Enger also describes some of the programs that have arisen...
Enger discusses the HR Line of Business program, its relationship to the e-government initiative in the President's Management Agenda, and its alignment with the Federal Enterprise Architecture. Enger also describes some of the programs that have arisen from the HR Line of Business and OPM e-government initiatives, such as the USAJOBS web site, the improved security clearance system, and improved employee training programs.
Complete transcript: 

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Arlington, Virginia

Mr. Morales: Good morning and welcome to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Albert Morales, your host and managing partner of The IBM Center for The Business of Government. We created the center in 1998 to encourage discussion and research into new approaches to improving government effectiveness. You can find out more about the Center by visiting us at the web at

The Business of Government Radio Hour features a conversation about management with a government executive who is changing the way government does business. Our special guest this morning is Mr. Norm Enger, director of the Office of Human Resource Line of Business at the Office of Personnel Management. Good morning, Norm.

Mr. Enger: Good morning.

Mr. Morales: And joining us in our conversation, also from IBM, is Don Shaw. Good morning, Don.

Mr. Shaw: Good morning, Al.

Mr. Morales: Norm, can you tell us about the mission and the history of the Office of Personnel Management, otherwise known as OPM?

Mr. Enger: OPM was created by the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978. It has a number of different responsibilities, one of which is to build a high-quality and diverse federal workforce based on merit-system principles. Essentially, it's the guardian of the integrity of the federal merit system. The director of OPM is the HR consultant for the executive branch. She's the President's principal advisor on matters that relate to the civilian workforce.

In addition to this responsibility, the OPM also has responsibility, for example, for the employee benefits systems, and in effect operates and administers the Civil Service Retirement Systems, the Federal Employee Retirement System, and the Civil Service Retirement System, which is servicing millions of retired federal employees. It also administers the Federal Employee Health Benefit System, which, again, services millions of both employed and retired civilian employees.

In addition, a very large responsibility that OPM now has is the processing of personnel background investigations. OPM now performs 90 percent of all the federal government's personnel background investigations, which covers both the civilian workforce, DoD, and also includes contractor personnel.

Mr. Morales: You've been with the Office of Personnel Management now for, I believe, about four years, Norm. Is that correct?

Mr. Enger: That's correct, yes.

Mr. Morales: And you came on board to lead the implementation of the e-government initiatives. Could you describe the various roles at OPM that you've had in these past four years?

Mr. Enger: My background has been private sector. I spent my life in the private sector and what happened, I then was asked by the federal government to help out the federal government. I met with the director of OPM and the chief of staff back in 2000. They asked me would I consider doing some public service. Essentially, at that time, the OPM had five of the original 24 e-government initiatives. These were initiatives that really had three primary mandates, if you will. First one was to make transformational change -- really change a business process in the federal government. Number two, do it in a relatively short space of time -- say, two to three or four years. And also the third mandate was to prove you've been successful. Show us by numbers, metrics, or whatever that you really have achieved that goal. The five that we had really framed the employee life cycle from recruitment to retirement. Essentially, the five we had were what I call point solutions.

For example, one of them dealt with the website where someone goes to find a federal job. That's called, and we, in effect, transformed that website. What happened is in last three to four years, we've moved those five to a point where they're ready to graduate into the regular business of OPM. They've been successful and met all of their milestones. However, what you're looking at is fixing a piece of the overall HR business process. Namely, you fix the website, but you don't fix the entire hiring process.

What happened is that OMB recognized that perhaps it was wise to expand upon the original concept of improving federal HR systems, and what they did in March of 2004, they announced something called Lines of Business. They announced at that time five lines of business, and one of those five was the Human Resources Line of Business. Essentially, the difference between the original five e-gov I had and the new Line of Business is that this is much broader in scope. They're looking at everything you do in terms of the business process from hiring a person to retiring a person and saying, let's look at the entire scope of this, the entire business process and all the sub-functions and really try and change as much as possible, and where possible use technology.

Mr. Shaw: Norm, you are now the director of the Human Resources Line of Business. Could you tell us about the mission of your office? You've spoken briefly about it, but could you provide some more detail?

Mr. Enger: The mission of my office is really to implement the vision of, now, the Human Resources Line of Business and also to complete the final graduation, if you will, of the original e-gov initiatives. Essentially, we are following the President's Management Agenda, the PMA, which sets forth as one of the five major components, e-government. We're following the goals and desires specified in the PMA -- the part, of course that deals with e-government. We also are following the E-Gov Act of 2002, which, again, has visions to improve federal IT systems. And finally, there's also something now called the Federal Enterprise Architecture, which is a big picture of the government from a business point of view, whereby it's looking at the government as one organization, saying, what does this one organization, this one government do? So we're responsible for, in effect, giving detail and giving the structure to the Human Resources part of the Federal Enterprise Architecture.

In terms of my mission, I have a staff of approximately 37 people working for me. With contractors, we have approximately 60 people working to implement both the HR Line of Business, but also to finish off or complete the earlier 5 e-gov initiatives.

Mr. Shaw: Norm, some of our listeners may have difficulty understanding what the federal government means by "human resources." Could you share your understanding of this term?

Mr. Enger: Human resources really means the 1.8 million people in the civilian workforce. What we are trying to do is we're trying to, in effect, improve how we recruit, how we motivate, how we reward the people in the federal workforce. So human resources means people. Another term that's come into popularity is "human capital." Essentially, this is also the people, but it wants to give the flavor, if you will, of the people in terms of a real asset to the organization. So when you say "human capital," you mean: Think about these people you have and think of them as an asset, like any other asset you have in a large corporation.

Now, the goal of the HR Line of Business is essentially to implement modern and cost-effective HR solutions to support the strategic management of human capital. A goal here is to, in effect, free up the HR professionals in the government from routine back-office type of work and move a lot of that work to federal processing centers -- I should say federal and also private processing centers. So in effect, you free them up to focus on the mission of recruiting, motivating, training, rewarding the people in the federal workforce, the move to a more strategic use of our HR professionals to build a better work force. And of course, a secondary consideration here is the fact that by doing this you also achieve many, many operational efficiencies, you save a lot of money, and you become much more efficient.

Mr. Shaw: As you mentioned earlier, you came to OPM after working in the private sector, including a successful launch of your own technology company. How have you translated your private sector experiences to your work now at OPM?

Mr. Enger: Well, I spent most of my professional life running my own company. It was a consulting, professional services, IT system integration type of company, and then what happened is the company was bought in 2000 by a large multibillion-dollar company called Computer Associates. I spent two years with that company as a vice president. So I really had the experience of both working at my own company and also working for a very successful large corporation.

Now, to answer your question specifically, what has happened is the federal government has moved toward trying to follow the best practices in the private sector. I was surprised when I joined the government in 2002 that I was seeing the government actually turning more and more to the private sector for help, answers, and solutions. Essentially, if you look at how the federal government rates their senior executives, they have several criteria that you have to really try and meet. One is leading change. A second one is leading people. A third one is being results-driven -- give us some results or some tangible evidence you're successful. A fourth one is having business acumen -- namely, you can intelligently operate a business-type function. And the fifth one is building coalitions and communications.

Well, all of these elements, these five, are very, very critical in the private sector. When I ran my own company and when I worked for Computer Associates, these were the criteria by which you judged the successful executives. And now, what I see is that that structure has now moved over into the federal sector, and we find the federal government trying to follow the same model, if you will, that we have in the private sector.

I might also add that a very key element here is results-driven. You see now a very, very keen desire in the federal government to tie performance to results, and that is very much a private sector orientation.

Mr. Morales: What role did OPM play in changing government recruiting? We will ask HR Line of Business director Norm Enger to share with us when the conversation about management continues on The Business of Government Hour.


Mr. Morales: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm your host, Albert Morales, and this morning's conversation is with OPM director Norm Enger. Also joining us in our conversation is Don Shaw.

Norm, you were a guest on our radio show in March 2004, and our listeners would be interested in an update on the progress of the e-government initiatives under your purview over the past few years. Let's start with the recruitment one-stop initiative and the usajobs website. Can you give us some background on this initiative? How's it helped with recruiting qualified candidates, and how many visitors do you now have, and how many online r�sum�s have been posted?

Mr. Enger: Well, this is one of the original five e-gov initiatives. It was called Recruitment One Stop; it's really focused on usajobs, our website. What happened is, when I joined the government, there was an old legacy system, which was definitely in need of replacement, renovation, or whatever. So what happened is in August of 2003, we actually brought up a brand new replacement site. Now, let me mention that this is the primary site where a person goes to locate, search for, and apply for a federal job. All competitive federal jobs must be posted by law on this website.

What happened is that in August of 2003, we shut down the old website on a Friday evening, and we were averaging 20,000 visits a day to that old website. We came live on a Monday morning, and fortunately, there were no glitches with the operation, but what did surprise me is on day one, we had 200,000 people on the site. We increased tenfold when people knew there was a new site. The new site is complete -- it's a modern site, the site appearance, the search engines, the r�sum� builder, the guidance on the site, how to locate a job that meets your desires or qualifications -- this has all been totally redone. It's now a modern, very robust site. So what's happened is that we're now averaging over 300,000 visits on the site per day, and that comes down to over 70 million people a year are actually going to this website. By every rating that we know -- and we actually have third parties evaluate the site -- 91 percent of the people that go to the site say they would return to the site and recommend the site to other people looking for a federal job.

At this point in time, we have over one million r�sum�s on the site. The site, I think, has met the earlier mandate I mentioned of e-government -- namely, you transformed a business operation, you've done it in a relatively short space of time, and you can prove that it's been successful by the number of visitors and outside surveys judging how well the site services the U. S. public.

The site is still evolving. Now, we are trying to give the applicants more feedback as to the status of their application or r�sum� to actually have it so they will know who's looking at their r�sum�, and what the next step in the hiring process is. This is a significant step forward into fixing the hiring process, which is a very high priority with the U. S. government and the director of the Office of Personnel Management. Where we are now is we're trying to have the site integrated more fully with what I call back-end systems in the agencies. Namely, they have systems that asses the applicant r�sum�, and the more we integrate their assessment systems with the r�sum�s produced by usajobs, the more you'll speed up the time it takes to hire somebody and the more you'll improve the federal hiring process.

Mr. Morales: That's a very impressive transformation. Two years ago, we also discussed your efforts to improve the federal government's security clearance process. Could you describe how the E-Clearance Initiative has transformed this approach to granting security clearances in the federal government?

Mr. Enger: This is a very, very major area -- topic area -- especially after 9/11, when the awareness of security really intensified across the country. There are several aspects to e-clearances, the initiative which we're talking about now. It's one of the original five. The first thing that we did is we built a system called the Clearance Verification System. This system -- it's the first time this was ever established -- this system holds 98 percent of all active security clearances. This covers all of the civilian workforce, the DoD workforce, and also all contractors. So one of our major accomplishments here is to build a central database or a central system whereby authorized people can put a name in and rapidly find out their clearance status and who granted that security clearance.

Also under this initiative we have moved forward to automate the forms people use to apply for a security clearance. One of the more common forms is called the SF-86; there are several other forms. What we have done is we have built electronic versions of all of these forms whereby it simplifies the process of filling out the application and also transferring the information to the appropriate investigative agencies.

The third element to this is to develop the specifications, to image background investigation information, the paper files that are produced by the investigators to do the background investigation. So the three pieces of this were the Clearance Verification System, the automation of the forms -- it's called E-hyphen-Q-I-P or e-QIP -- and also the imaging standards to image background investigations.

So in effect, what we've done here is we have moved from a paper-driven security clearance process to an electronic process. A very significant act was the 2004 Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act. Based upon the mandate of this very important act, and based upon the progress in e-government, we are now looking that 80 percent of all background checks will be finished within 90 days by the end of 2006. As I said earlier, at this point in time, OPM is doing 90 percent of all the federal government's personnel background investigations. At the present time, we're conducting over one million investigations a year.

Mr. Shaw: Norm, one aspect of the Human Resources Line of Business is skill development, employee skill development. Could you share an update on the E-Training Initiative and the website?

Mr. Enger: Essentially what this was to accomplish was to build a web-based learning site where people could obtain from the Internet, from a website, courses, books, mentoring, the various things required to develop competencies and skills. We launched, in July of 2002, a very, very simple site. It was extremely basic; at that time, Mark Forman was in charge of e-gov -- now it's Karen Evans. Mark Forman was there, and in effect, we launched the site. We had a handful of courses, maybe 30 or 40 courses; we had a handful of books. It was a very, very humble beginning.

Since July of 2002, it's really grown very, very rapidly. We now have four providers of web-based training services under the E-Training Initiative. We have, which is operated by OPM, which is the site that I mentioned that we brought up in July 2002. We have FasTrac, F-A-S-T-R-A-C, a site operated by NSA. We have a site operated by Department of Commerce, NTIS. And our newest web provider is Department of State, the Federal Service Institute. They all are working with us under the E-Training Initiative, and we have, in effect, an advisory council that works with all of these providers.

And what's happened is now we have 1.3 million registered federal people using the courses and materials under the E-Training websites. These courses -- we now have thousands of courses, not 30 courses, but thousands -- we have hundreds of books, we have collaboration on the site, we have mentoring. The site keeps on getting richer and richer, and it's become a primary vehicle to educate and help the federal workforce build knowledge, skills, and also competencies. The site keeps on expanding in terms of what it's offering.

A very significant aspect now is we're moving into career planning or pathing on the site. We worked with the Chief Information Officer Council and we developed, basically, a career path for people in information technology. We mapped out what they should know from an entry-level position in IT to becoming a chief information officer. A person can go into this site and see at every step in their career in IT what they should know in terms of knowledge areas, skills, abilities, and they're able to, in effect, plan a curriculum and using our USALearning, they're able to, in effect, start taking courses, and the site will help them to track their training and their curriculum. So, in effect, you've moved now from just having courses and materials to actually helping people move forward in a well-defined career. This really is improving competencies. We plan to follow this model of building competencies. We're now working with the HR community, the acquisition community, and the financial community to, in effect, add to this web-based training, career pathing, or planning facilities similar to what we did with the IT community.

Let me also add that we have established a council. It's called the Learning and Development Advisory Council. Now, we have 23 agencies, and we have these four service providers all working with us on this council, which, in effect, as a government, is looking together, saying, how can we better use web-based training to improve and help the federal workforce. This ties very, very much into the whole move to pay-for-performance because you have to have people properly trained to do their job in order to be able to have them able to give the results you want, which ties to their performance on the job.

Mr. Morales: How is OPM supporting electronic payroll? We will ask HR Line of Business director Norm Enger to explain this to us when the conversation about management continues on The Business of Government Hour.


Mr. Morales: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm your host, Albert Morales, and this morning's conversation is with HR Line of Business director Norm Enger. And joining us in our conversation is Don Shaw.

Norm, another e-government initiative that you've led is the E-Payroll Initiative. Could you provide some background for our listeners on this program and what's the current status of the payroll provider consolidation and agency migrations?

Mr. Enger: When I joined the government in 2002, I learned that there were 26 agencies paying the 1.8 million federal employees. Coming from the private sector, where efficiency is very important, I was wondering why do you have 26 places paying the federal workforce. It turns out that the same question was asked many, many times by OMB and other parts of the federal government, and in effect, this initiative was to consolidate and standardize civilian payroll processing. What happened is, starting in 2002, we've moved forward, and what we have done is we have gone through a process in establishing 4 of the 26 agencies to be payroll providers, and we are finishing now the consolidation of civilian payroll into those four providers' sites. The four are the National Finance Center, which is part of Agriculture. It's based in New Orleans. You have the National Business Center, which is part of Interior, based in Denver. You have GSA, which is based in Kansas City. And you have, of course, you have DoD, something called Defense Finance Accounting System of services, payroll also.

Now, where we are in this process is we now are 85 percent complete. We now have 1.5 million of the 1.8 million people in the workforce being serviced by these four payroll providers. I think this is a very, very great success in e-government. We've done this in a relatively short space of time, and we've had no significant problems in terms of somebody getting the wrong paycheck or whatever.

Let me also add that one of our sites, the National Finance Center in New Orleans, they actually were shut down, essentially, during Katrina. They were able, through their planning, to be able to operate at other locations. They were able to continue processing pay for roughly 600,000 federal employees, which I think is a real tribute to how robust and how well this E-Payroll Initiative has progressed. From my point of view, the great success of E-Payroll, which has saved large sums of money and led to a more standard and more coherent civilian payroll system, really was one of the main reasons why the government thought of the Lines of Business. A major part of the Lines of Business is moving away from stovepipe installations, moving to more sharing and, in effect, offering modern, robust solutions at these service centers.

Mr. Morales: We know that OPM, GAO, and the OMB are encouraging the link between employee performance, organizational outcome, and pay. How is your office supporting the development of performance-based organizations?

Mr. Enger: Part of the Human Resources Line of Business, we have a task force of 24 agencies that meets every month to talk about direction, progress, for the Line of Business. But in addition to which, we've established something called the requirements board. This requirements board consists of OPM management, but also we have on the board, for example, we have Defense, Homeland Security, and other parts of the civilian workforce. They are looking at the legislation and requirements that drive information systems.

One of the main areas here is compensation management, which deals with payroll and also the various HR systems. What's happening is that they are developing the requirements which, in effect, become the IT structures, if you will, that will be running at the Federal Service Centers. What I'm saying here is that we now are, through the HR Line of Business, we're putting in place the infrastructure, we're putting in place the data centers or the service centers, and also we're putting in place the requirements for the new personnel payroll systems that'll run at those centers. And all of that supports the new pay-for-performance systems, which are now being implemented at DoD, the National Security Personnel System, and you have a new system at DHS -- Homeland Security -- MAX HR, and they're also talking about a new system for the rest of the civilian workforce in the Working for America Act.

In addition, I said earlier that many aspects of my early initiatives, like the E-Training and such, are really key to building competencies necessary for the workforce to perform properly.

Mr. Shaw: Norm, we've been discussing the coming wave of Lines of Business: Human Resources, Financial Management and Grants, and Information Security. We understand that agencies are planning centralized service providers for these functions. What role does your office have in supporting Human Resources shared service centers?

Mr. Enger: When the business case for the HR Line of Business was finished by our task force in 2004 and delivered to OMB, there were essentially two main recommendations in the business case, one of which was the government should move toward establishing shared service centers that would offer quality modern systems to support HR professionals that manage the civilian workforce.

The second major thrust was there should be more standardization -- where it makes sense -- in the HR business processes. What happened is that in roughly September of 2004, OMB asked agencies who would like to volunteer to be a federal shared service center, as we call it in the HR Line of Business -- namely a provider of these services. At that time, five federal agencies submitted proposals to be these centers. There was a proposal from Defense, a proposal from Agriculture -- the National Finance Center, a proposal from Interior -- the National Business Center, a proposal from Health and Human Services, and a proposal from Treasury. OMB reviewed these five proposals and in February of last year, they announced that from their point of view, from a budgetary and managerial point of view, they passed the OMB review. They were called candidates.

At that point in time, the proposals were turned over to OPM and the HR Line of Business, and we formed a number of panels, a technical and also an advisory board, and we spent many months analyzing these five proposals. We asked for more information from these five proposed providers, we met with them, et cetera. In September of 2005, the director of OPM, Linda Springer, and OMB announced that these had also passed the criteria, if you will, to be certified by OPM. So, in effect, as of September of 2005, you had five established, certified, federal shared service centers. And right now, these centers are in business to, in effect, offer agencies solutions, and they're following all the guidelines of the HR Line of Business, and they're also taking and looking at and moving toward meeting the requirements that we're publishing all the time relative to what they should be offering in terms of modernizing the IT systems that support the federal government.

Let me also add that beyond the IT services, they can offer other services also, but essentially, we're looking at moving routine, back-office type of work from the agencies to these centers.

Mr. Shaw: We understand the Human Resources Line of Business is a significant collaborative effort across multiple agencies. How would you characterize this collaboration, and what lessons learned can you share with us?

Mr. Enger: Well, we established the HRLOB task force in March of 2004, and it meets every month. And the task force is very, very active. We have very, very strong participation. The task force, of course, developed the business case for the line of business, the task force reviews all of the requirements we're putting out in terms of what should be offered at our shared service centers. And what we have now, we have established -- I think there are four poles to the HR Line of Business. One is we have the governance structure, which is the task force of 24 agencies with many, many sub-working groups. We also have established a shared service center advisory council, which consists of the four new HR service providers. And on the same council we also have the earlier four payroll providers, so there are nine components there. Then we also have as part of the task force, we have a group of 11 agencies that represent the voice of the customer.

So we have now the governance structure. We have the voice of the customer, which is a part of my task force, to speak for what the customers want, and they'll develop service-level agreements and performance metrics whereby they'll say what they want from the service centers. Then we have the voice of the service centers, or providers, which is this advisory council I mentioned before. And the last piece, the fourth piece, is we're publishing and making available to both the private sector and the federal government what we want in terms of the modern business systems. We're defining exactly what those systems should do and how they should operate and what their functionality should be. So we're actually telling the private sector and these centers, here's what those systems should do in terms of responsiveness, functionality, and also, you know, various performance criteria. So those are the four poles, if you will, of the HRLOB.

Now, to answer your question, though, what I've learned from this is that you can never do too much communication. You really have to outreach as much as possible to, in effect, make people understand what you're doing and why you're doing it. I've learned, if you will -- it's reinforced what I guess I understood earlier -- that you've got to make an effort, go out to meet whoever wants to meet with you in Congress or an agency, who wants to know more about what you're doing and why you're doing it, and make the presentations. And in that way you build the support which is really critical to moving ahead with these initiatives.

Mr. Shaw: Norm, can you briefly describe the technology that will support the HR Line of Business solution? Are you planning COTS software, or will custom software development be required?

Mr. Enger: Well, essentially, the federal government very much wants to learn and use the private sector as much as possible. There's a real movement away from the federal government building its own systems. So a major thrust here will be to, as much as possible, use commercial off-the-shelf software. Wherever possible, turn to the private sector, bring in their commercial software, and contract with them to, in effect, use that software and benefit from all the evolving technology they've put into that software. A major thrust also is to use the private sector wherever it makes sense, and contract out where it makes sense, and then, in terms of technology, it's really no different from what the private sector is facing in moving toward XML, Java, moving more and more toward Internet-based systems, moving away from the client server toward the Internet-hosted and -based systems. In terms of technology, it's really the exact same technology any large American corporation would be looking at and assessing at this point in time.

Mr. Morales: What does the future hold for the HR Line of Business? We will ask OPM director Norm Enger to discuss this with us when the conversation about management continues on The Business of Government Hour.


Mr. Morales: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm your host, Albert Morales, and this morning's conversation is with Norm Enger, HR Line of Business director at OPM. Also joining us in our conversation is Don Shaw.

Norm, what are the specific plans for the HR Line of Business in fiscal year '06? How many agencies do you anticipate will migrate to the HR Line of Business Shared Services Center?

Mr. Enger: I mentioned earlier that we now have in place five federal HR service centers. We anticipate that in fiscal '06 three agencies at least will migrate major HR functions to these Shared Service Centers. I anticipate that the numbers will accelerate in the next fiscal year, so we'll see over the course of the next year more and more of the back-office work moving from the agencies to these service providers. In the course of this year, we'll continue our meetings with the task force, we'll meet every month with these five providers -- we have a council of five providers -- we also will continue the work we're doing to, in effect, define the solutions that we want to run at these service centers.

I think that the work we've done in defining solutions is really key to the future because for the first time, the government is defining what do we want these federal HR systems to do, and these are coming out in published specifications available to the private sector so they can build systems that meet those requirements.

So we have a lot of activity this year to, in effect, move forward defining solutions, and I might add also in defining solutions, that we anticipate that at some point in time, we'll actually be able to certify solutions. So if a vendor says, I have a new HR system that does this and this, we'd be able to take that and match it to our requirements, and then if it passes the requirements testing, we could certify that as a certified federal HR system. And that, of course, would wind up running at one of our shared service centers.

Mr. Morales: Norm, we spent a fair amount of time talking about commercial best practices, and certainly, you have a perspective coming from the private sector. What emerging technologies hold the most promise for improving the federal management of human resources?

Mr. Enger: Well, from a technology point of view, I think we're looking at knowledge management being one broad area. I think open architectures being another one. Web-based services, XML -- I mentioned this before. I think that the technologies that let us integrate systems more and pass information more easily and seamlessly between systems, all of this -- which is really the keynote of the open architecture -- will let us have more flexibility in how these service centers operate, how they communicate with each other, and how they're able to add new functionality, in terms of new vendor software becomes available, and they can plug this in, if you will, and offer this to the federal agencies.

Mr. Shaw: Norm, if we can ask you to look into the future now, what types of human resources concerns will face the federal government in 10 years and then even further out in 25 years?

Mr. Enger: Well, the federal government, as Linda Springer, our director, has said several times now, we're facing the fact that roughly 60 percent of the federal workforce can retire within five years. So you're looking at a very large potential for retirement from a 1.8 million civilian workforce. This puts great pressure on the federal government to do succession planning -- namely to be training people, hiring people to replace these people who leave. Because they leave with many years of knowledge about certain activities and functions, so you have to have in place people who are able to understand that functionality and replace these people.

So we're looking at that, which ties into the very important task of attracting talented young people into the federal workforce. It's very key that we have the ability to attract these young people. One step forward has been this usajobs site that I mentioned. We have to make the federal government more attractive to young college graduates and people looking for long-term careers. The federal government right now has an aging population and in effect, we now really need some new blood and quality -- talented young blood to enter our federal workforce.

Looking forward, we're looking at a more diverse population, a more diverse federal workforce which reflects the American population. The federal government tries to, in effect, represent the U.S. population, which is becoming more diverse. I think we're talking about what I call a blended federal workforce. We find that, in reality, most of your major operations or programs are a blend of both federal people and contractor. We're looking at a realization that we can't just look at a federal workforce, but we have to realize that it's a federal workforce totally supported by a competent private-sector workforce. So you really have to look at the whole picture -- the blended workforce is what I call it. I think this requires a little bit of assessment as to the best way to deal with the blended workforce.

The other issues, I think, are more general, like globalization. You know, there are jobs going overseas, software is being built in India and elsewhere. This does have some impact upon the long-term view we have as to what we're doing in the federal sector.

Mr. Shaw: How will OPM need to evolve to respond to these significant challenges in the future, Norm?

Mr. Enger: Well, the OPM, as I mentioned earlier, is really the guardian of the civilian workforce. Essentially, OPM has as a goal to have agencies adopt human resource systems that allow them to build a competent workforce. A second goal of OPM is to create a work environment so that people want to stay with the federal government or join the federal government. So OPM puts in place the policies, the guidance, to agencies that lets them establish this positive work environment so people can, in effect, do their job properly and, in effect, be results-oriented.

And the third part of OPM's goal here is to deliver services that are both efficient and quality. OPM has major, major roles in benefits, retirement systems, health benefit systems, and also investigative service systems. So OPM wants to deliver its services to the U. S. public very effectively and efficiently and cost-effectively. And also to pass on this view to the agencies that in turn have to service or are servicing both U.S. public and the civilian workforce.

Mr. Morales: Norm, on this theme of guidance, you spent most of your career in the private sector. But you've obviously successfully transferred to public service. What advice could you give a person who's interested in a career in public service?

Mr. Enger: Well, I think we have a significant situation now in terms of the federal government wants to be more like the private sector where it makes sense. The whole idea of pay-for-performance whereby every year you put in place a plan which specifies your goals for the year and ways to measure your achievement of those goals, this is very much a private-sector mentality. I think this will attract many young people who are looking for challenges, who are looking for accomplishments. The federal government offers individuals a chance to work on systems and projects that are much larger than most private companies can offer. I mean, you're talking about systems that affect millions of people, that involve billions of dollars in many cases, and the scale here is quite attractive, I think, to many young professionals coming out of college.

This is a good time for a person to join the federal government. Hopefully our usajobs website has been able to show people some of the benefits of working for agencies and working for the federal government. We have, on usajobs, numerous aids to help people who might have interest in the environment, interest in law enforcement, intelligence, military, whatever -- there are numerous guides on the site that let a person put in their desires, what they'd like to see in the job that'll guide them to what jobs are available in the federal sector. I encourage young people to go to this site and explore the site.

We also have on the site a special area for student jobs. In effect, someone who wants to work part time for the government can go to Student Jobs and find these part-time jobs. We also have something called a Presidential Management Fellows Program, designed to attract young people into the federal service, a special program to motivate and incentivize these young people.

So in summary, I think that this is a very, very good time for a young person looking for a positive career to consider federal service.

Mr. Morales: That's great advice. Norm, we've unfortunately run out of time, and that'll have to be our last question. First, I want to thank you for fitting us into your busy schedule today. Second, Don and I would like to thank you for your dedicated service to the public and our country in the various roles you've held at the Office of Personnel Management and in the information technology industry.

Mr. Enger: Yeah, I would suggest that people go to the website. There's much more information about the Line of Business at the site. And also I mentioned the website where a person can locate and apply for a federal job. Thank you very much.

Mr. Morales: This has been The Business of Government Hour featuring a conversation with Norm Enger, director of the Office of HR Line of Business at the Office of Personnel Management. Be sure to visit us on the web at There you can learn more about our programs and get a transcript of today's conversation. Once again, that's

As you enjoy the rest of your day, please take the time to remember the men and women of our armed and civil services abroad who can't hear this morning's show on how we're improving their government, but who deserve our unconditional respect and support.

For The Business of Government Hour, I'm Albert Morales. Thank you for listening.

Norman Enger interview

Friday, May 21st, 2004 - 20:00
"The goal of the HR line of business is essentially to free HR professionals in the government from routine back-office type work so they can focus on recruiting, motivating, training and rewarding the people in the federal workforce."
Radio show date: 
Sat, 05/22/2004
Intro text: 
Enger discusses the HR Line of Business program, its relationship to the e-government initiative in the President's Management Agenda, and its alignment with the Federal Enterprise Architecture. Enger also describes some of the programs that have arisen...
Enger discusses the HR Line of Business program, its relationship to the e-government initiative in the President's Management Agenda, and its alignment with the Federal Enterprise Architecture. Enger also describes some of the programs that have arisen from the HR Line of Business and OPM e-government initiatives, such as the USAJOBS web site, the improved security clearance system, and improved employee training programs.
Complete transcript: 

Thursday, March 11, 2004

Arlington, Virginia

Mr. Lawrence: Good morning and welcome to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, partner in charge of The IBM Center for The Business of Government. We created the Center in 1998 to encourage discussion and research into new approaches to improving government effectiveness. You can find out more by visiting us on the web at

The Business of Government Hour features a conversation about management with a government executive who is changing the way government does business. Our special guest this morning is Norm Enger, E-government program director in the Office of Personnel Management.

Good morning, Norm.

Mr. Enger: Good morning.

Mr. Lawrence: And joining us in our conversation is Tom Romeo, also from IBM.

Good morning, Tom.

Mr. Romeo: Good morning.

Mr. Lawrence: Well, Norm, let’s start by sort of focusing on the mission and the activities of OPM. Could you describe for our listeners what OPM does?

Mr. Enger: The main job of OPM is to build a high-quality and diverse federal workforce based on merit system principles. To do this, OPM works with the President, the Congress, departments, and agencies to help them to develop and implement good human capital policies that in turn let the agencies meet their strategic objectives. OPM is essentially a consulting organization that guides the federal government, the civilian sector, to improve how it works with, manages, and guides development of human capital.

Mr. Lawrence: So you would characterize the relationship between OPM -- you use the word “guide.” What’s the relationship between OPM and, say, the rest of the federal government? How would you describe that?

Mr. Enger: Well, the OPM has the mandate, if you will, to give policy guidance to the civilian sector of the government, the human capital officers throughout the civilian sector, to properly manage their personnel and payroll systems, and all the systems that deal with the federal employee.

Mr. Romeo: Can you tell us a little bit about your role as the E-government program director for OPM?

Mr. Enger: My role is the E-gov program director, and the OPM received five of the 24 original E gov initiatives. The five E-gov initiatives, which we’ll talk about shortly, deal with human capital. The mandate of E-government is to transform government business systems. Therefore, in this context, the OPM initiatives seek to transform the human resource, the human capital systems, in the federal agencies. What is interesting in this context is that OPM, I believe, has been successful in this mission because we are the second agency to achieve green status, which is given by OMB to agencies that meet all of their criteria and milestones for E-government. So right now, we have just achieved green status in E-government.

Let me also add that E-government is a little bit unique in the sense that what we’re talking about is not minor Band-Aid changes to systems; we’re looking at transformational change, which means major, radical change to how the government does business. What’s also very relevant here is we’re talking about change in a very short space of time. E-gov has objectives to transform systems within 18 to 24 months. We wind up with a very, very ambitious schedule to accomplish these things.

I work very closely with the director of OPM, Kay Coles James, the OPM officials, and the agencies to, in effect, put into place and implement the vision of E-government. I also, of course, work closely with the CIO of OPM, because we have to work within the infrastructure developed by the OPM’s CIO.

Mr. Romeo: I know in other agencies, there are also E-government lead positions. Can you talk a little bit about some of those positions and the advantages of having such a role?

Mr. Enger: Well, there were, as I said before, 24 E-gov initiatives. Every agency that has an E gov initiative has assigned a project manager for the initiative. This is because of what I said earlier; namely, you’re looking a radical change in a very, very short space of time, 18 to 24 months. Therefore, to accomplish that, each of the 24 initiatives has a project manager, and each agency that is a managing partner, such as OPM, has assigned a manager for that purpose. These are really government-wide in scope, so just because an agency has an initiative, it means, in effect, the agency is responsible for working across the government to provide a government-wide solution. The perception here is not agency-centric, but government-wide. So as we’ll talk about in a few minutes here, what we have developed from OPM are used throughout the federal government, not just by OPM.

Mr. Romeo: Thanks, Norm. How many employees would you say work for the E government program at OPM, and what kind of skill sets do they have?

Mr. Enger: I have approximately 60 individuals working for me in the OPM E-gov program. These 60 individuals are a combination of full-time OPM personnel and contractors and detailees. The E-gov initiatives really require quite a spectrum of skills. We have IT specialists, human resource specialists, risk management specialists; a wide range, security specialists, privacy specialists. We really wind up with a mosaic and quite a spectrum of people required to effectively design, develop, and implement that E-gov initiative.

Mr. Romeo: Can you tell me a little bit about your career prior to joining OPM, and what type of skills do you think best prepared you for the E-gov program lead at OPM?

Mr. Enger: Well, my background has essentially been private sector. I ran my own computer system integration firm for many, many years, for over 20 years, providing basically systems and E-commerce solutions to federal and commercial clients. My firm was acquired about four or five years ago by Computer Associates, a very large system software and business software firm. And I therefore wound up running a smaller firm and then working as a vice president for a very large firm.

And then what happened is that approximately two years ago, I got a call from the chief of staff of OPM, asking me to come down and talk to them. I was quite unprepared for this. I went down, and essentially, the chief of staff and director asked me if I would be interested in public service. And I’d always had some interest in this, but never really focused upon where I would do public service. I met and talked to the chief of staff and the director, and was very impressed by their vision and their dedication to transforming federal systems, and I was asked to interview for the position. I interviewed, among other people, and I was selected to become the OPM E-gov program manager.

I must say that my prior many, many years in the business, and especially my private sector background with IT, information systems, for many, many years prepared me very, very well for the current position.

Mr. Lawrence: When you think about your days in the private sector, how would you compare the management styles used in the private sector versus the public sector?

Mr. Enger: Well, I was a bit surprised that in reality, the difference is not that dramatic. The senior executives in the federal sector are judged upon such qualifications as leading change, leading people, results-driven, business acumen, building coalitions. Well, these are very, very much the same criteria used to judge successful managers in the private sector. What has happened is that the government is more and more looking to the private sector for metrics and ways to improve its operations. I see more and more the transfer of solutions, metrics, and ideas from the private sector into the federal government. So therefore, in that sense, I don’t think at this point in time, you’re talking about a dramatic difference in the criteria or the mode of operation of successful federal people or private sector individuals.

Let me also mention that I was very, very pleasantly surprised to find when I joined the government that I had five project managers that were very, very talented. I was very impressed by the caliber of the people I had to work with, working for me. And I remain very, very impressed by the dedication and the hard work and the results of the people working for me in the federal sector.

Mr. Lawrence: Let me ask the question again, only this time focusing in on your technical skills, because you describe your experiences of leading technology organizations. How about comparing potential differences between creating technology solutions in the public sector as opposed to or compared to creating them in the private sector?

Mr. Enger: I don’t see a fundamental difference in the process of creating technology solutions in the public versus the private sector. In general, the private sector, though, is where you have the great breakthroughs in IT technology in terms of new software solutions, new hardware solutions, new communications solutions. So in general, the private sector is the leading edge, and the cauldron, in effect, where you have most of the breakthroughs in technology.

One goal of E-government is to look for the best solutions, whether they be public or private, and then implement the best solutions. What we do is we look carefully at a solution to a business problem in the government, and also outside. We do studies and then a cost/benefit analysis and then we determine where is the best solution, federal or private sector?

Let me add that my E-gov initiatives have very, very much used the private sector. We’ve outsourced a number of operations to the private sector. We’ll talk some more about this when we discuss USAJOBS E-training. But in effect, we have, under my five initiatives, used off-the-shelf commercial software and we’ve outsourced several operations from the public to the private sector.

Mr. Lawrence: That’s an interesting point, especially about the cost comparison.

What is and why was OPM recognized for this work? We’ll ask Norm Enger of OPM to tell us more about this when The Business of Government Hour returns.


Mr. Lawrence: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I’m Paul Lawrence, and this morning’s conversation is with Norm Enger. Norm’s the E-government program director in the Office of Personnel Management.

And joining us in our conversation is Tom Romeo.

Well, Norm, could you describe the E-government vision and how the six OPM E government initiatives relate to the employment life cycle?

Mr. Enger: Well, what we have done is we took the five original E-gov initiatives, and the five which we can talk in more detail deal with recruitment of federal people, training federal people, their personnel systems, their payroll systems, their security clearance systems. The original five deal with those five discrete areas. And if we think about it, that frames the employee life cycle from recruitment and eventually into retirement. I should add also, our systems feed into the retirement system, which is managed and run by OPM. So we were able to effectively communicate a vision of the employee life cycle to the agencies and to the human resource people in the federal sector.

This is very important, because one of the difficulties IT people have is we talk in acronyms and jargon, and very often, we lose the audience for our vision. By framing the OPM initiatives into an employee life cycle, we’ve been able to very effectively convey what we’re trying to accomplish to the human resource officers in the federal sector.

We also have a sixth initiative, and that is called HRIS, Human Resource Information Systems. What that really is is going into a phase two, if I can use that term, of E-government, and that really now is looking at an enterprise solution for the entire human resource piece of the federal line of business. We’ll talk about that a bit more later.

Mr. Romeo: Let’s talk about the six initiatives in more detail. Since recruitment is at the beginning of the employment life cycle, can you describe the recruitment one-stop online service?

Mr. Enger: The recruitment one-stop initiative basically has a role or a mission to help the citizen find federal jobs. We want to simplify the process of locating and applying for federal jobs. When I came on board about two years ago, the OPM ran an old legacy system site called USAJOBS. The initiative has completely replaced and transformed that site. In August of last year, we brought up a brand-new actually outsourced site, using commercial off-the-shelf software; radically changed the old site. We actually shut down the old site.

I might add that this took place in August, August 4th, I believe, of last year. And I was apprehensive, because shutting down a complete site and then going live with a new one, there is some risk there. We shut down the old site on a Friday, went live on a Monday morning. And to my great surprise, on the Friday before, on the old site, we had 20,000 people a day on the site; on Monday, we had 200,000 people on the site. We increased the volume tenfold over that weekend from the old to the new site. I must say, to my great happiness and satisfaction, there wasn’t a glitch at all. The site went fully operational, and it’s simply grown in utilization. We now have 60 million citizens a year go to our USAJOBS site to locate federal jobs, put in résumés, and also to look and see what’s available relative to positions in the federal sector.

This has really improved the hiring process, because one of the real passions of Director Kay Coles James is to fix the federal hiring process. And what we’re doing here is we have replaced an old site with a brand-new site where a citizen can go, see what jobs are available, they can build a résumé. They actually now are able to track the application they file. They can see the status of the application.

We also have on the site here, we have all kinds of guides relative to helping them to determine what jobs they might be suitable for, help them with their career pathing. So in effect, we’ve gone and replaced an old legacy system with a very, very user-friendly, vibrant, and very successful new job site called USAJOBS. This site also is used by the agencies to -- we call it data mining. They can go in there and search for candidates for positions, and in effect, use that as a database, if you will, to see who’s applied for federal jobs.

Mr. Lawrence: Okay. So we just described the process of recruiting and hiring. So now once hired, a government employee is encouraged to build skills across a variety of subjects. And as I understand it, in 2003, OPM received a Distinguished Technology Leadership Award for the successful implementation of Could you tell us what makes this a successful and innovative site?

Mr. Enger: Well, the concept behind the E-training initiative, and the website is, was to provide to the federal employee one-stop shopping for high-quality learning resources. Going back historically, in July of 2002, we launched a relatively humble site. I was standing with Mark Forman, and Director Kay Coles James gave the introductory remarks and we launched this site, which had at that time roughly 30 or 40 online courses, web-based courses. Since July of 2002, we have improved the site and it has evolved. So from a humble beginning, we now have well over 3,000 courses on the site. We have hundreds of E-books. As of last year, we had 30 agencies using this for their primary training. By the end of this year, we’ll have 60 agencies. It’s become a primary site for quality online web-based training for federal people.

The site itself is a -- it’s a virtual building with floors. And people can, in effect, go into classrooms and look at and take any one of these 3,000 courses. We have hundreds of books of all types, both technology and management and career-building and ethics, on the site. We have mentoring. People can have mentors help them to answer questions they have about either technology or about careers or whatever. We have resource centers that tie them to dictionaries, encyclopedias, libraries, et cetera. We now have over 1 million people a year actually come to this site and use this site. And actually, to my great surprise, the utilization is half civilian and half military. The site is running 24 by 7; it’s available full-time, 7 days a week. It’s used by federal people on every continent in the world.

And we have received numerous awards for this site. We received a very prestigious Gracie Award this year from our peers in the private and federal sector. So we’re very proud to, in effect, have a site which is delivering to the federal workforce an easy-to-use, available way to have continuous learning, to let the federal people continuously improve their job skills and make learning a process that is not difficult to reach, but becomes a part of their normal job pattern, per se.

Mr. Romeo: Norm, providing security clearances to federal civilian workers can be a very lengthy process, especially given the heightened importance of background checks since the September 11th incident. How does the government’s E-clearance initiative facilitate the security clearance process?

Mr. Enger: Well, this initiative, E-clearance, essentially wants to speed up and also improve the process whereby one gets a security clearance. When I first came on board two years ago, to my surprise, there was no central system whereby an authorized person could check security clearances across the government. What we did is, we at OPM, through this initiative, gathered into a warehouse all of the clearance information held by individual civilian agencies. We built this warehouse, and then in January of 2003, we linked this warehouse to a DoD system, called Joint Personal Adjudication System.

And the system I’m talking about, we call it the clearance verification system, CVS. And for the first time ever, you had a system which let a person who’s authorized inquire across the entire civilian and military sector for the status of somebody’s clearance. This system we built will hold 98 percent of all active clearances. To our great satisfaction, it was used by the new Department of Homeland Security last year to stand up and become operational. It used this system to do the background checks of the employees coming into that department from 22 different organizations. Roughly 160,000 employees were actually checked with this system.

A second part is moving all of the paper and forms for a clearance. For example, one form is the SF-86 you fill out. It’s a 13-page paper form to request a security clearance. We’ve made this electronic, and we’re making all the forms that people use for clearances electronic. By doing this, we’re moving from a paper system to an electronic system, and this cuts down the time it takes to get a security clearance, the time it takes to move information around, and in effect, the basic goal of E-clearance is to speed up and also to improve the whole process of security clearances.

Mr. Lawrence: This is a fascinating conversation of the life cycle, but we’ve got to go to a break.

Rejoin us in a few minutes as we continue our conversation with Norm Enger of OPM. This is The Business of Government Hour.


Mr. Lawrence: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I’m Paul Lawrence, and this morning’s conversation is with Norm Enger, the E-government program director at the Office of Personnel Management.

And joining us in our conversation is Tom Romeo.

Well, Norm, we can’t talk about the employment life cycle without discussing one of the most important parts of employment, to the employees that is, the receiving of a paycheck, and that it’s current and consistent and timely. How does the E-payroll initiative help facilitate the government to do this in the most cost-effective manner?

Mr. Enger: Well, two years ago, when I took this position, to my great surprise, there were 26 agencies processing payroll for the 1.8 million civilian employees. I scratched my head, saying why are there 26 places paying these employees? The initiative essentially is to standardize and to consolidate civilian payroll processing. What we are doing is essentially we are consolidating civilian payroll processing from 26 down to basically two partnerships. We are collapsing from 26 down to two partnerships comprising four agencies, and eventually down just to two centers, if you will, that process civilian payroll. In the process, we’ll standardize payroll, but also, I might add, by shutting down these redundant operations, we’ll save the government, over a 10-year period, $1.1 billion. So in effect, we also don’t just achieve efficiency, but we also achieve significant cost savings by these initiatives. I might add that our partners here, the agencies that are in effect comprising the partnerships are Agriculture, Interior, Defense, and GSA.

Mr. Romeo: Norm, can you describe the vision, goals, and benefits of the Enterprise Human Resources Integration initiative? What is the EHRI’s relationship to the other E-gov initiatives?

Mr. Enger: Well, essentially, this initiative, EHRI, has several goals. Again, going back several years, I was quite surprised to realize that, from my point of view anyway, there really wasn’t a very rich corporate database on the civilian workforce. One part of EHRI, one goal is to build a corporate database or warehouse of real accurate information about the 1.8 million people in the civilian workforce.

Last September, September 2003, we actually brought up this new operation, this new website used by federal people. And what we have now is a richer and richer repository, describing in more and more detail the skills, the abilities, et cetera, of the 1.8 million civilian people. This is used for all kinds of workforce analysis, planning. We can look in there and determine retirement rates; we can do studies of age, sex, ethnic backgrounds, et cetera. So what we’ve done here is establish a corporate warehouse.

A second role of EHRI is to move away from paper personnel form. We call it the EOPF, Electronic Official Personnel Folder. What we’re doing is we’re leading the government in terms of showing the government how to get away from those voluminous and bulky personnel folders and move toward an electronic personnel record for the employee. Eventually when a person joins the government, there’ll be an electronic record created for them, a personnel record, and that will follow them through their federal career. So a second part of this is to, in effect, move toward an electronic personnel system.

To answer your question about its relationship, this initiative is defining all of the data elements that pertain to federal human resources and payroll. We have defined over 800 data elements that really comprise the standardization, if you will, of the information that is used in the federal personnel and payroll systems, and this also are the standards being followed by my other initiatives.

Mr. Lawrence: Norm, you’ve described the scenario where Executive Branch agencies may potentially invest in duplicative human resource information systems that perform core personnel transaction processing. For those of us who aren’t HR professionals, could you describe what a core personnel transaction process is? And then I’m curious, with this consolidation, you know, how you thought about, you know, the effect standardization will have on the government and others involved in the HR area.

Mr. Enger: The core personnel transaction processing is really the processing that updates the employee personnel record, the actions that update that record. This is called in the federal government the SF-5052 processing. This initiative, the HRIS, essentially is now moving toward an enterprise view of the human resource line of business.

Let me address it this way. We proved that the government could be transformed in a very short space of time. I think the original E-gov initiatives, the 24, have shown that there can be rapid change in the federal government. You can implement solutions in a very short timeframe. You can show tangible results, either dollar-wise or utilization. So in effect, this is really building upon the initial 24 and our five, I should say. And now we’re saying let’s look not just at those five points, if you will: training, recruitment -- look at the entire business itself of human capital in the federal government.

This HRIS is really using something that OMB has really pioneered called the Federal Enterprise Architecture. What that really says is that the OMB FEA is looking at the government as a business, just as you would look at a commercial private business, and what it’s done, looked at it across all of its operations and then defined lines of business: one being financial management, another one being human capital. And what we’re doing is we’re looking at the entire human capital line of business, what people do in the government relative to people and payroll. And what we’re doing is we are, within that context, looking at all the operations, all the business functions there. And now we’re looking to improve across the board, where we can, with better solutions and making the government more efficient and also to, in effect, improve how human capital operates in the federal sector.

Mr. Romeo: Norm, you just talked about the business processes and how they go across the federal government. All of the E-gov initiatives involve coordination of IT systems across the federal government, also. How is OPM working with other federal agencies to accomplish the goals of the different E-gov initiatives?

Mr. Enger: The agencies are right now all signing agreements to use wherever possible the 24 original E-gov initiatives. For example, we are on the Steering Committee, and we’re using E-authentication; another initiative. E-authentication essentially is used to credential or to identify who is on a terminal. That’s fundamental to all of E-gov, because E-gov depends on the Internet, on web-based services. So for example, in this one case, we’re on the Steering Committee and we plan to use the initiative.

The same thing goes with other initiatives. We’re using USA Services, an E-gov initiative, which provides help desk services to operations. So what’s happening here is that all agencies, including OPM, wherever possible, are incorporating and using other E-gov initiatives.

Mr. Lawrence: How much funding has been allocated to the E-gov initiatives?

Mr. Enger: Well, the OPM funding in 2004, we received approximately $10.8 million in appropriation. We also have fee-for-service operations for E-training and recruitment one-stop. So in effect, we have a combination of appropriations, and also, we have fee-for-service operations.

Mr. Romeo: What other critical success factors besides funding are needed to make these initiatives a success?

Mr. Enger: Well, when you have these initiatives, you obviously want agencies to shut down redundant systems and migrate to your initiative. Well, what happens here is you have to give tangible evidence that you have a solution. I think that a critical success factor is not just to say I have achieved success at E-training or USAJOBS or E-clearance, but you have to demonstrate and have a tangible, kick-the-tires proof that you have a solution. So step one in terms of a critical factor is you’ve got to be able to demonstrate a viable robust solution before people will shut down their old or redundant systems.

Another very important factor here is agency participation in the initiative. It’s very, very important that you outreach, that you work with agency partners. You go out and, in effect, you sell, you show what you’ve done and get buy-in from people that you’re asking to migrate to the initiative. So I think these two things: one, really have a solution, not smoke; and also to go out and really build up coalitions of support so people will use and migrate to your solution.

Mr. Lawrence: We left the conversation about E-payroll and the human resource information systems. The one thing I meant to ask was what’s the timetable for their implementation?

Mr. Enger: Well, for example, E-payroll, we have a target of September 2004, this year, for many of the migrations to be finished. We have at this point all of the agencies lined up for migrations, and we will pretty much meet the target of September 2004 for migrations.

Let me also add that in general, the plan of E-government is that by September 2004, the initiatives will graduate. And what that means, they’ll be operational. They’ll have achieved what the original goal was, is that from two years ago, the start, until September 2004, we have actually gone from concept to real operations. So the answer to you with E-payroll is, our target is September 2004, to, in effect, have finished many, many of the migrations.

The other one, HRIS, that you mentioned, this is really starting now. It’s a newer initiative, called a line of business initiative. And in fact, a task force for this is being formed for this as we speak, and I believe OMB and OPM will have an event on March 18th, this month, to announce the formation of this task force. And again, the task force and initiative, they’ll address enterprise solutions for the human capital line of business.

Mr. Lawrence: That’s interesting. It sounds like 2004 will be a busy year.

What’s the future of E-government? We’ll ask Norm Enger of OPM for this thoughts and perspectives when The Business of Government Hour returns.


Mr. Lawrence: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I’m Paul Lawrence, and this morning’s conversation is with Norm Enger, E-government program director at the Office of Personnel Management.

And joining us in our conversation is Tom Romeo.

Mr. Romeo: Norm, we’ve talked a lot about the current E-government initiatives. In your opinion, what others do you think the future will hold?

Mr. Enger: Well, the vision of E-government is a government that is citizen-centered, not bureaucracy- or agency-centered, results-oriented, and market-based. The goal of E-government is to provide one-stop online access to the citizen to information and services. Citizens should be able to find what they want quickly, in seconds; not in hours or whatever, or days. A good example of this, for example, is the FirstGov website, where a citizen can go to a site and from that one site, they’re tied to all federal agencies; they’re tied to a variety of resources relative to grants, to national parks, to employment opportunities. So what we’re looking for here is to use the web, the Internet, to provide the citizen with very rapid -- three clicks or whatever -- access to a wide variety of accurate information that in effect provides them with first-quality service.

Mr. Romeo: How do you envision the government will conduct transactions across other federal agencies and/or state and local governments?

Mr. Enger: Well, what’s happening is that some initiatives are in effect dealing with the federal, state, and local situation. For example, one Homeland Security initiative is a secure portal that will deal with disaster management; in effect, dealing with disaster management and public safety, E-government is in effect developing systems and communications that link together federal, state, and local governments into one context, into one response to a disaster or public safety challenge.

Mr. Lawrence: Norm, you’ve been working in the field of E-government now for some time. What advice would you have for future leaders in E-government on how to be successful in this field?

Mr. Enger: I would advise future leaders in E-government to be aware that major transformations in federal business systems requires a full recognition of the need to build coalitions of support in affected agencies. Change management is a major factor in the success of E-government. Future E-gov leaders should not focus on technology solutions without recognizing the other dimensions of change necessary for success.

Mr. Lawrence: And how about in terms of a person considering a career in public service? You’ve been in both sectors, and you moved into public service after a long career in the private sector. What advice would you give to somebody interested in joining public service?

Mr. Enger: Well, I think this is a very exciting and challenging time for a young person to join the federal government. Our government faces challenges, even though we are the world’s greatest economy and have the world’s greatest and strongest military force. What is very exciting, and I think E-gov has made this possible, is that we have shown that you can transform government operations in a very, very short space of time. We can show that government can, in effect, reach out and, in effect, become more efficient, more effective, more responsive to the citizen population in a short space of time.

My advice to a young person considering a public service career would be to go and look at the OPM USAJOBS website. The site is On this website, the person can locate a vast array of educational and job opportunities, all kinds of internships, grants, and job situations. Young people will be able to use the site. They can also on the site develop a job résumé to apply for a federal job.

Let me also add, there is also a Presidential Management Fellow program designed to attract into federal service outstanding young men and women from a variety of disciplines. Again, if the person goes to our site, USAJOBS, they will find more information about this PMF, this fellowship program.

Mr. Lawrence: Well, Norm, that’s our last question. Tom and I want to thank you for joining us this morning and being our guest.

And would you like to tell the people the website one more time, in case they’re --

Mr. Enger: Yeah, the website I mentioned earlier was; g-o-v.

Mr. Lawrence: Thank you very much.

This has been The Business of Government Hour, featuring a conversation with Norm Enger, E-government program director in the Office of Personnel Management.

Be sure and visit us on the web at There, you can learn more about our programs and research into new approaches to improving government effectiveness, and you can also get a transcript of today’s very interesting conversation. Once again, that’s

This is Paul Lawrence. Thank you for listening.

PDF transcript: 

Donna Beecher interview

Friday, December 28th, 2001 - 20:00
Donna Beecher
Radio show date: 
Sat, 12/29/2001
Intro text: 
Human Capital Management...
Human Capital Management
Complete transcript: 

Friday, November 2, 2001

Washington, D.C.

MR. LAWRENCE: Welcome to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers and the co-chair of The Endowment for The Business of Government. We created The Endowment in 1998 to encourage discussion and research into new approaches to improving government effectiveness. Find out more about the Endowment by visiting us on the Web at

The Business of Government Hour features a conversation about management with a government executive who is changing the way government does business. Our conversation today is with Donna Beecher, Director, Office of Human Resource Management, at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Good morning, Donna.

MS. BEECHER: Good morning, Paul, it's good to be with you this morning.

MR. LAWRENCE: Great, and joining us in our conversation is another PWC partner, Steve Watson. Good morning, Steve.

MR. WATSON: Good morning, Donna, thanks for joining us.

MR. LAWRENCE: Well, Donna, many of our listeners may not be familiar with the mission of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, could you take a minute and describe its role and the activities for our listeners?

MS. BEECHER: Actually, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has several missions, such as helping expand markets for farm producers; insuring a safe food supply; managing national forests; and promoting rural development.

Our agencies do such varied things as inspecting eggs, poultry, and meat for safety; conducting agricultural research; protecting the health of plants and animals in this country by inspecting products that are shipped into the country or come in through our ports. We administer food stamps and school lunch programs. So, you can see, we have a variety of missions and we touch people's lives.

MR. WATSON: Donna, how many employees carry out those missions at USDA and what sort of positions do you have and skill sets unique in carrying those out?

MS. BEECHER: We have a little over 80,000 permanent, full-time employees with the department. The types of positions that you would find in our workforce are foresters, forestry technicians, plant protection quarantine officers and technicians, veterinarians, soil conservationists, researchers, economists. We're a very science-based organization and many of our positions require some college education or degree work in the sciences, in the biological sciences, particularly.

We also employ wildfire fighters, fire jumpers and people who protect our land in the event of forest fires. And, as any large department, we have a full spectrum of management support positions, such as procurement, accounting, IT.

MR. WATSON: Where are you in the United States, everywhere?

MS. BEECHER: We are everywhere. We have employees in over 6,000 different locations, many of which do not work in traditional office settings. They're in food processing plants, they're at airports and seaports, they're out in national forests. Even our soil conservationists are often out in the farmland working with a farmer advising him on how to protect his land from runoff and to protect the quality of his soil.

MR. LAWRENCE: Well, tell us about your career, how did you get to USDA?

MS. BEECHER: Well, I've been at USDA just since March of '99. I have spent my whole career with the federal government and within the federal government in human resources management.

I began as an intern with the Department of Housing and Urban Development. I progressed through a variety of positions there to become a charter member of the Senior Executive Service. And, since then, have moved laterally within the federal government from HUD to HEW, now Health and Human Services, then to the Office of Personnel Management and then to USDA.

MR. LAWRENCE: How did you get involved with human resources?

MS. BEECHER: Well, I actually had a summer internship at the Internal Revenue Service in their personnel office. I selected an internship with HUD at the end of my graduate program because I wanted to work for HUD, being a brand-new Cabinet department and facing a lot of management issues of how you bring disparate agencies together around a common mission.

I was offered a position in the personnel office there and I thought it would be a wonderful opportunity to shape the personnel policies and programs of a new department.

MR. WATSON: Donna, what drew you to public service?

MS. BEECHER: Well, I attended a great college, Drew University in Madison, New Jersey. One of the strongest departments in that school was their Political Science Department. But after majoring in political science, I thought I needed to cap that off with a graduate degree in a more career preparatory field and I chose public administration over journalism. I may still be a frustrated journalist, but I like to think that I wanted to make things happen, rather than to report on things that were happening.

MR. LAWRENCE: When you left graduate school, what were the choices? Was it clear you were going into government or were there other choices that were equally attractive at that time?

MS. BEECHER: It was clear to me that I was going to go into government. At that time, the federal government had very robust recruitment programs and the HUD mission, together with; again, it's formative state, as a Cabinet department really attracted me.

MR. LAWRENCE: Take a moment and reflect on your career and maybe pick out a couple of positions that best prepared you for your job and tell us about those experiences and what you learned from each of them.

MS. BEECHER: I think, in looking back, that all of my positions in sequence have prepared me in one way or another, but one that really stands out is the position I held when I first moved from HHS to OPM.

I was the assistant director -- and this is a mouthful -- for the Office of Systems Innovation and Simplification. But it was an opportunity to shape a research agenda for federal human resources management and to develop the first strategic plan for federal human resources management. This is back in the '87/'88 timeframe and people, a lot of people weren't talking strategic planning back then, so it was quite a first.

The value of that position for me was it really stretched my time horizons. I had to think long-term. I had to think into the future and to project where the government's federal human resources challenges would be coming from.

At the time, the Volker (phonetic) Commission had issued a report saying that we were failing miserably in competing for the best and the brightest. And so the strategic plan that we crafted was all based around helping the federal government become more competitive as an employer.

Another part of that position which has stayed with me for the rest of my career has been my opportunity to shape demonstration projects across government. The China Lake demonstration project with performance-based pay banding in the Navy was underway, but that was it. And over the course of a few years, we launched a number of new demonstration projects, including one that I've had the opportunity to follow-up on at USDA, the categorical rating as an alternative to the "rule of three."

MR. WATSON: Donna, in your years of government service, what qualities have you observed as key characteristics of good leadership and what do you see as the top qualities for good leadership in the twenty-first century?

MS. BEECHER: I think I see myself as a visionary and maybe I'm projecting, but I think vision and the ability to connect with people and help people connect to a vision is an important quality. People want to be part of something bigger than themselves and bigger than a day-to-day work environment. And I think an effective leader helps make that possible for people.

I think, in personal terms, authenticity is a critical quality for an effective executive; someone who people believe they're speaking truthfully, they're speaking from the heart, they act on their beliefs, and they strike people as a very authentic person.

I happen to think people get farthest who have small egos and who are not pushing their personal agenda, but are doing the work that needs to be done.

And, lastly, a quality that's important to me, particularly in today's world, with the Government Performance and Results Act, is the courage to be judged by outcomes that are not completely within your control.

MR. LAWRENCE: There's no doubt the vision thing is hard to do. But let's assume that away. You also mentioned communication and staying connected. How does one do that in the department like USDA, it's so diverse, so large, as well as being so spread out?

MS. BEECHER: Well, it's difficult. In fact, communications is one of the biggest challenges in our department. People are so spread out and we are not in a place, today, where we have automated systems that easily connect the Secretary to someone on a frontline.

It, actually, in my view, is a person-to-person-type of relationship that supervisors are able to establish a sound, caring relationship with everyone in their organization and that there's a high quality of conversation that occurs between managers and employees.

We read studies that we should be concerned about retirement and so forth because that's going to create vacancies and succession planning and so forth. I think what I would put a higher priority on is the quality of managers we select, because people tell us, time and again, that the number-one reason they quit their job to go work for somebody else is they don't get along with the person they work for. So, I think the communications, on a very personal level, are really critical.

MR. LAWRENCE: That's a good stopping point. It's time for a break, but come back with us after the break as we continue our conversation with Donna Beecher of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. We'll ask her about some of the hiring practices at USDA. Find out more about this when we continue with The Business of Government Hour.


MR. LAWRENCE: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers, and today's conversation is with Donna Beecher, Director, Office of Human Resources Management at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. And joining us in our conversation is another PWC partner, Steve Watson.

MR. WATSON: Donna, we hear a lot about the difficulty federal government agencies face in recruiting employees. Can you describe the recruiting efforts conducted by the USDA and the steps you're taking to recruit new employees?

MS. BEECHER: I'd be happy to. One of the things that we're doing is beefing up our connectivity to colleges and universities, particularly, the land-grant colleges, the 1890 colleges and the Hispanic-serving institutions.

We have a reputation for years of having some of the best student-employment programs in government. And we are very proud of that and want to expand our use of student-employment programs to an even greater extent.

I often hear managers wishing that they had direct-hire authority. And my response to them is you have it. The college-cooperative education programs at both the undergraduate and graduate-school level, really allow you to, either with the help of a faculty or department head, to identify a student who you think is really a good fit in your organization and hire them as a cooperative-education student, let them work in your organization while they're finishing their degree, and when they complete their degree, you can convert them into your permanent workforce.

USDA was a delightful discovery for me that we actually have full-time liaisons on a number of college campuses. We have full-time liaisons in all of the 1890 schools and we have a national fellows program that brings some of those students in to work with us on a guaranteed four-year fellowship.

We also have Hispanic-serving institution liaisons who cover a broader geographic area. They may cover an entire state but they are our eyes and ears on what is going on on college campuses in that region and they highlight for us key events where they think USDA needs to be there. We need to have a presence; we need to educate students about our mission and what we do.

We have, actually, trained a recruitment cadre of over 100 people from various agencies and occupations. They are positioned all over the country and when one of our HSI liaison's, for example, says there's a recruitment fair in New Mexico, we can quickly put a team of people together who represent the different disciplines that we hire in USDA.

We have developed new recruitment literature. We have a little, a very popular mini-CD that we hand out in our recruitment visits. And I understand, we will be, if not the first, one of the first Cabinet departments to actually launch a career intern program under the recently issued Executive Order authorizing career intern programs in federal agencies.

MR. LAWRENCE: How about more broadly? What are the biggest challenges, the biggest HR challenges facing USDA, today?

MS. BEECHER: I think the biggest challenge is ensuring that people are engaged in serving their customers and understand the program strategic goals that the department is pursuing. There are some areas where we have some major challenges in recruiting people, primarily veterinarians and senior biological researchers, but other than that, I think we have been enjoying a pretty robust response to our vacancy announcements and our job advertisements because we have made a commitment to advertise virtually all of our jobs, open to all qualified persons and keep those windows open for the receipt of interested applications for a minimum of 30 days.

And we have seen a real bump up in the number of applications and in the quality of applications as a result of that.

MR. WATSON: Donna, we know the USDA conducted a demonstration project, hiring practice known as the "rule of three." Could you tell us a little bit about it, the lessons learned and going forward?

MS. BEECHER: Let met tell you -- set the stage for this by briefly describing how the "rule of three" works, which is the traditional way that the government examines for hiring into the competitive service or the Civil Service.

When people apply for jobs with the federal government, their application is scored on a scale of 0.0 to 100.0 and we're talking tenths of percentage points, here. And once someone is -- all the applicants are given their raw scores, the veterans who are eligible for preference in hiring receive additional points added to their raw score to create an adjusted score.

Then an examining office will take all of the applications and array them in very strict numerical score order. The "rule of three" says in a quick way, that the selecting official is limited in his or her selection to he top three people on the list.

Now, the way that works in practice is that that's three individuals. It's often, that you have tied scores, but the law is three individuals. And so, you have to break that tie in some way and there are a number of ways that you can do that. But one of the ones that's used often is random number generator. And that kind of creates an arbitrary break so that you can be very clear who are the top three individuals that you're allowed to consider.

Also, as part of the "rule of three" you cannot pass over a preference-eligible in order to select a non-veteran. So, if you had one preference-eligible at the top of your list and then the next two people were not veterans, you really are talking about a "rule of one." It's a way of translating merit and the public policy to give veterans preference in employment into an operating examining system.

What USDA took on as a demonstration project, was an alternative to the "rule of three," called categorical rating and ranking. In the two agencies that participated in the project, the U.S. Forest Service and the Agricultural Research Service, they do not assign numerical scores to job applicants. Instead, they sort them into quality groupings or quality categories based on pre-established job-related criteria. Within each category, the veterans are automatically at the top. And, in many respects, the USDA demonstration project is a way of guaranteeing veterans absolute preference in employment.

When a selecting official in these two agencies is presented with a selection list, they can choose any one of the veterans in the quality group and that may be 10, 15, 20, I mean, they have a much broader range of selection within the high-quality veterans.

If there are no veterans in the quality group, they can make their selection from any of the non-veterans in the quality group. The main advantage of the demonstration project is that it gives mangers much more scope of choice among high-quality people. It isn't necessarily a tool for speeding up the hiring process, but it's a tool for eliminating a lot of arbitrariness in the process and really, it makes more common sense to people, they understand that you can't predict success in a job to the tenth of a percentage point, but you can, generally, segregate the high-quality applicants who meet the qualification requirements, but don't quite rise to that level?

MR. LAWRENCE: Has there been any feedback on what the results of this new hiring process has yielded? It seems obvious that the administration of it is now more straightforward, but how about in terms of effectiveness of the candidates, for example?

MS. BEECHER: The managers in the two agencies that use the process are very pleased with, again, their role in the process; they have some say in what the criteria will be; they appreciate the fact that they are getting higher-quality candidates, and more of them to choose from. So their reactions have been overwhelmingly positive.

Mr. Lawrence: Well, it's time for a break. When we come back we'll ask Donna Beecher of the U.S. Department of Agriculture about some of the new tools the President would like to give federal government leaders.We'll find out about some of the flexibilities in the new Freedom to Manage Act when The Business of Government Hour Continues.


MR. LAWRENCE: Welcome back to the Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers and today's conversation is with Donna Beecher, Director of Office of Human Resource Management with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Joining us in our conversation is Steve Watson, another PWC partner, Steve Watson.

MR. WATSON: Donna, President Bush recently announced his Freedom to Manage Act, which includes human resource flexibilities to help recruit and retain federal workers. How would these flexibilities in hiring, training, and compensation affect USDA?

MS. BEECHER: Well, many of the flexibilities in the Management Flexibilities Act, which is part of the Freedom to Manage Initiative, have been flexibilities, we've wanted for sometime. We're very pleased to see this legislative proposal.

The flexibilities that would specifically benefit our organizations: One would be the ability to straightforwardly pay for employees to obtain academic degrees and certificates. It's very important to today's workers to understand that their employer is invested in their continuing learning and development. And we have many employees who would really like to keep their education and their development moving and being able to pay for academic degrees would send a very important signal and help us both recruit and retain.

Another feature that we like very much about the Management Flexibilities Act is the ability to use recruitment and recruitment bonuses and retentional allowances in more tailored and customized ways.

Today, a recruitment bonus is, essentially, given in a lump sum when the person -- like a signing bonus, when they come on-board -- and a retention allowance must be paid in bi-weekly increments, with their regular paycheck. But we are looking forward to the possibility of being able to use those flexibilities a little more creatively, where we could take a retention allowance and position it out as, if you stay for two years, we'll give you a lump sum and a recruitment bonus may be something that we give you a signing bonus, but we'll also give you a pay increment for the first six months or so to carry you through.

The other piece of this is that we can actually expand the amount of money on the table by the length of the service agreement that the employee is willing to sign. So, if they're willing to sign a service agreement for two years, we actually can double the threshold amounts that we can offer in either of those incentive payments. That's a big plus for us.

There's a whole segment of the Management Flexibilities Act that makes it easier to launch new demonstration projects and to expand existing demonstration projects when they have been determined to be successful.

So one of the first things I would expect USDA would do would go to OPM and say, you have agreed for sometime that our demonstration project in categorical rating and ranking is successful, we would now like to have that approved for the whole department as an alternative personnel system.

I also understand that the performance-based, pay-banding systems are ready for that good housekeeping seal of approval, as well, though I'm not aware that there are any agencies in USDA who are pressing at this time to adopt a pay-banding system. That's not to say that won't happen in the future and it would be wonderful if this act passes and we can simply go to the Office of Personnel Management and ask their approval, as opposed to getting a law passed through Congress.

MR. LAWRENCE: What kinds of technology does the USDA use to manage human resources?

MS. BEECHER: Well, we use the Legacy systems that are operated by the National Finance Center for the most part. We have access to some Web-based tools through the National Finance Center. They have a nice reporting center that people can use to access data reports and things of that sort. And they offer some direct self-service options for employees who want to change addresses or other kinds of benefits and so forth; as well as a personal page where the employee can call up information about their pay history. So there's some very good services offered there.

Three of our large agencies have procured a commercial, off-the-shelf human resource system and they're very pleased with the results of that.

Other automation tools that we use -- I think of them more as boutique software packages that we imported into the department to really boost our effectiveness in human resources management. We have two agencies that are using a commercial service that automates the classification of position descriptions. And four of our agencies are currently testing three different software products or services that dramatically automate and streamline the process.

MR. LAWRENCE: When you say these tools are well received, are they received because they reduce the time or the cost to perform the process and/or do they give the employee more information about what is recorded about them and insight into the system?

MS. BEECHER: It's a little bit of both. Let me, maybe, give you an example in the staffing automation area. It dramatically streamlines the process. The applicant can apply online and can, in most of these systems, actually access some information online about the status of their application as the hiring process proceeds. So, it's both an efficiency issue within the processing of a hiring transaction, as well as a service to people who can more easily follow-up on what's the status of my application.

MR. WATSON: How does technology and e-government fit into future HR plans at FDA?

MS. BEECHER: Again, I see more and more of our HR services, both information and transaction processing, done directly in a self-service mode, using Web-based products and software. The staffing piece is, again, an example of how we -- when someone wants to fill a position, we create, online, a vacancy announcement and a job-specific questionnaire that asks each applicant to indicate the degree to which they have actually used or have experience in performing certain tasks. Their responses are then tallied and formed into an overall rating and the selection lists are very quickly produced.

One of the advantages is we don't care if we, in fact, we're delighted if we have 100,000 applicants, whereas, for many years without this kind of technology to support us, we would have tried to manage the number of applications, maybe by saying that only employees within the Department of Agriculture could apply for this opening. And now we are, really, at liberty to declare the merit system truly open because we are not overly concerned about receiving a very large number of applications for any of our positions.

The applicants love this because they can apply online, answering the questionnaire, typically, takes them about 15 to 20 minutes, as opposed to the days of anguish many people tell you they experience in writing narrative summaries of how they have demonstrated that they meet certain knowledge, skills, and abilities. So applicants find it to be a very easy and user-friendly, and we have had people tell us, anecdotally, I wouldn't have even applied if I couldn't apply this way, because I simply didn't have the time to put together a more traditional application.

MR. LAWRENCE: How long did it take USDA to adopt what you described as the automatic staffing, from sort of getting comfortable, sort of seeing the problem -- lots of paper, to getting comfortable with a whole new way of doing it, how long did that take?

MS. BEECHER: Well, we did not develop the technology to do that. It was developed by others. The three systems that we're experimenting with right now: One is a system that was developed by the Office of Personnel Management; is now called USA Staffing, and we're using it in two modes. We have one mission area that has actually imported the technology into their operation and they do the work. The other is, we actually pay OPM to do the work on a reimbursable agreement. And we have two commercial products, as well.

MR. LAWRENCE: Well, it's time for a break. And rejoin us after the break as we continue our conversation with Donna Beecher of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. With all the possible retirements, we'll find out who'll be left running the department when The Business of Government Hour returns.


MR. LAWRENCE: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers and today's conversation is with Donna Beecher, Director, Office of Human Resource Management at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and joining us is our conversation is another PWC partner, Steve Watson.

MR. WATSON: Donna, we hear a lot about the coming government retirement wave and the expected impact on federal agencies. What kind of challenges does this present to USDA and what are your plans to address it?

MS. BEECHER: Well, Steve, I think we're pretty typical of your average federal agency with respect to people becoming eligible for retirement in the now, next five-to-ten years. One challenge that presents for us is the potential loss of institutional memory and the brain drain, if you will.

And a way that we are working to address that challenge is to imbed as much knowledge as we can into smart systems and to automated business processes, whether they're e-gov or Web-based tools, so that that knowledge is captured.

The other challenge it presents is accelerating the learning curve for new executives and managers who are coming into the system or coming up the ranks. They simply won't have the luxury of moving through chairs of evermore difficult or challenging leadership positions at a pace of every three-to-five years, perhaps, moving on. They're going to be put into positions much faster and will have to accelerate their learning.

One approach that we are taking in USDA is working with all of our agencies to develop leadership development programs, not just at the 15 level, where people might be looking for opportunities to move into the Senior Executive Service, but more importantly, leadership development programs at all or many more levels in the organization. And tailoring that with some expanded use of executive coaching to work with individual managers, particularly new managers, people who are taking on new roles, so that they are as successful as they can possibly be.

MR. LAWRENCE: You mentioned that the USDA reaches out to a lot of college campuses and, so, people come up and say why should I join USDA? What advice do you give them about a career in government or even USDA?

MS. BEECHER: Well, I think that public service is a noble calling. I think it presents an opportunity for people that are naturally other-centered. They want to make a difference; they want to be of service to others. It gives them opportunities to really act on that motivation.

Working for USDA and working for many other departments and agencies present opportunities to make a difference and to address some of the most pressing challenges and issues facing our society and the world. I think that capturing that notion of challenge and making a difference is what really appeals to young people today.

MR. WATSON: We hear about the difficulties that federal agencies have recruiting technology workers, in particular. What steps is USDA taking to both recruit and retain technology workers?

MS. BEECHER: One initiative that we're very proud of is our department has become one of the pilot agencies for a new approach to hiring technology workers, which, if successful, will be expanded government wide. This is a natural fit, but in our IT organizations, we're making use of some pilot online recruitment testing capability where people can apply online, they can take written tests in some very specific technologies and competencies. They can actually do online-structured interviews right from their personal computer.

Our IT workers say that they think that that approach just speaks to them. It gives them a sense that we really know what we're looking for and that we're talking their language. And we're relating to them in mediums that they feel very comfortable with. So, again, we're hoping that we will see greater interest in our positions and more quality candidates coming through our doors.

MR. LAWRENCE: There seems to have been a trend towards decentralization of the human resource functions within the federal government. I'd be interested if you believe there is such a trend and, also, what you think about it. Do you expect to continue and how that plays out at USDA?

MS. BEECHER: Well, I think there are kind of several sub trends. First of all, agencies do have far more discretion in establishing policies and tailoring various packages together to really meet the needs that their agencies face. And I expect that that will continue and that with the Management Flexibilities Act, with the possibility of more demonstration projects, people will have more leeway to fashion HR programs to meet their needs.

I do think, though, that we're going to see a consolidation of some of the more repetitive processes in government; the processing of personnel transactions. Even things like benefit counseling will probably be pulled together into some more centralized processing centers.

Another phenomenon that's happening here is that agencies are realizing they don't have the bench strength any longer; following the previous initiatives to downsizing the federal government, they don't have the ability to dedicate staff resources to continually reinventing the same wheel. So, they are very motivated to learn from each other and to collaborate more on the development of standard approaches or corporate approaches to HR. They're not being driven to it by some third-party authority, but they see it in their self-interest to pool their resources to collaborate to develop corporate approaches where that seems to make sense.

MR. WATSON: Donna, what is your vision for USDA's human resources over the next ten years?

MS. BEECHER: I would love to see the human resources offices in USDA become very valued enterprises for the quality of analysis and advice and ideas that they serve up to agency leaders for how to engage people and to create more customer satisfaction and just to deliver our mission more effectively.

MR. LAWRENCE: What do you think the skills of the HR employees in the future will look like? In an answer you gave just a second ago, you talked about some of the unique challenges -- they'll be fewer of them, a lot more transactions will be centralized, they'll be self-service. I'm wondering what these employees will look like and what they'll be doing?

MS. BEECHER: They will be, I think, using a higher set of skills; they'll be looking at data; they'll be managing surveys; they'll be conducting focus groups; they'll be taking data and information and putting it together to present to decision-makers a business case for changing the way we manage people in some or a other aspect. And to continually introduce new ideas that are responsive to the needs of employees and to the needs of the agencies that we work with.

MR. LAWRENCE: What management challenges will these new employees, these new type skills, these new type employees present to the managers of HR?

MS. BEECHER: Well, I think that HR managers will need to be ready to adapt flexibilities to meet needs of individual employees -- the idea of treating everybody as if they're kind of interchangeable units or something is certainly not going to be part of the future; people will have individual needs. Listening to people and helping them to feel engaged and connected.

I think, also, HR people will need to be ready to explain the reasoning behind certain policies and programs so that people have a context in which to understand it. It's not good enough to say, well, that's just the way it is or that's the rule. You really need to treat people as if they're intelligent adults who want to understand why HR policies are the way they are and how that can work to their benefit.

MR. LAWRENCE: Well, Donna, I'm afraid we're out of time. Steve and I want to thank you for joining us today.

MS. BEECHER: Thank you very much for having me, I enjoyed talking with you.

MR. LAWRENCE: This has been The Business of Government Hour, featuring a conversation with Donna Beecher, Director, Office of Human Resource Management at the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Be sure and visit us on the Web at There, you can learn more about our programs in research and also get a transcript of today's interesting conversation.

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This is Paul Lawrence, see you next week.