GAO Backs DHS Personnel Reform, But Warns Timing Is Everything

GAO backs principles underlying new DHS personnel system, but said implementation is the key.

The Government Accountability Office issued a report backing many of the principles underlying the administration’s proposed Department of Homeland Security personnel system, but warned that how the system is implemented may be an equal barometer of its success.

“GAO believes that the regulations contain many of the basic principles that are consistent with proven approaches to strategic human capital management. For example, many elements for a modern compensation system-such as occupational clusters, pay bands, and pay ranges that take into account factors such as labor market conditions-are to be incorporated into DHS’s new system,” the report indicated.

However, GAO said that while the principles are sound, defining how the system is implemented is a critical area that looms before DHS.

“The implementation challenges we identified last year are still critical to the success of the new system. Also, DHS appears to be committed to continue to involve employees, including unions, throughout the implementation process. Specifically, according to the regulations, employee representatives or union officials are to have opportunities to participate in developing the implementing directives, hold four membership seats on the Homeland Security Compensation Committee, and help in the design and review the results of evaluations of the new system,” GAO said in its report.

Additionally, GAO said that to help ensure the quality of that involvement, DHS will need to:

• Ensure sustained and committed leadership. A Chief Operating Officer/Chief Management Officer or similar position at DHS would serve to elevate, integrate, and institutionalize responsibility for this critical endeavor and help ensure its success by providing the continuing, focused attention needed to successfully complete the multiyear conversion to the new human capital system.

• Establish an overall communication strategy. According to DHS, its planned communication strategy for its new human capital system will include global e-mails, satellite broadcasts, Web pages, and an internal DHS weekly newsletter. A key implementation step for DHS is to assure an effective and on-going two-way communication effort that creates shared expectations among managers, employees, customers, and stakeholders.

“While GAO strongly supports human capital reform in the federal government, how it is done, when it is done, and the basis on which it is done can make all the difference in whether such efforts are successful,” the report stated.

You can download the entire report in PDF format from the link on the left hand side of the page.

About the Author

Ralph Smith has several decades of experience working with federal human resources issues. He has written extensively on a full range of human resources topics in books and newsletters and is a co-founder of two companies and several newsletters on federal human resources. Follow Ralph on Twitter: @RalphSmith47