HR Bashing, Avoiding Facts and Chief Human Capital Officers: A Study in Political Correctness

The author asks the reader to go with him through Alice’s looking glass for a tour of the world of human resources management in our nation’s capitol. Up is down, down is sideways as Agency chief human capital officers thread their way through the minefield of identifying what might be amiss in the U.S. civil service.

The Democrats are back in; federal unions are in the ascendancy; human resources (HR) specialists are the problem; but, chief human capital officers (CHCOs) think the leadership at OPM is wonderful and if management would only be nice to the unions, wouldn’t things be perfect? I recently read (via Fedsmith) the Partnership for Public Service and Grant Thornton LLP survey of chief human capital officers (CHCOs) on the state of the Federal workforce and its future.

If you are wondering why government cannot get hiring right, start by looking at these folks. They tell us that human resource specialists are not up to 21st century hiring or personnel administration requirements.

These are the people at the top of the HR food chain responsible for hiring and developing the very human resource specialists they say aren’t up to the task. Does that include them, as well?

I wonder if the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) would find that admission sufficient to warrant their demotion from the SES or at the very least cause for something less than a Presidential rank award. Perhaps you shouldn’t read on as I was obviously jaded by the transition from calling the field personnel management then people management then human resources without a single change in its mission or function.

OPM, We Love Ya but You’re Doing a Crummy Job

They go on to say that OPM’s current leadership is fabulous but that its programs like USAJobs is broken beyond repair.

These are the leaders who demanded that OPM delegate direct hiring to agencies but are now saying that cross agency hiring is the way to go. They are, of course, enthralled with the Obama administration, the third in a line of democratic administrations to take up civil service reform. It started with Jimmy Carter’s creation of merit pay, a rotating executive service and establishing critical element/performance standards, none of which ever worked and cost tons to implement over and over again (I didn’t even mention labor relations by law). Then came Al Gore, hammer awards and the elimination of the Federal Personnel Manual (FPM), the last vestige of a consistent advisory system across agencies that managers could rely on to help them make routine and sometimes not so routine personnel decisions.

Now we face the Obama hiring reform and labor management love-ins, neither of which take any account of the realities that exist in fragmented pay, classification, hiring, promotion, and training systems.

Human Resource Fragments and the Rice Bowl

To give you some idea of how and why things are broken in DC, consider that OPM, FDIC and the Office of Thrift Supervision (Treasury) are a couple of blocks apart.

Because of the banking law “reforms” of the early 90s, FDIC and OTS can develop their own pay systems. FDIC must bargain about pay but OTS doesn’t. OPM is covered by title 5 and the vagaries of the Federal pay setting process. I worked for both OPM and OTS in DC and did work for FDIC as a trainer/advisor in the 90s. A labor relations specialist in each of these agencies did the exact same work of advising managers on dealing with unions and bargaining among other things. Labor relations specialists in each of these have substantially different salaries and benefits from one another.

Many years ago, Department of Defense agencies started creating consolidated personnel offices to serve various commands. I would like to hear the uproar if it were suggested that some of the 1200 Boards, Agencies, Commissions share some common service. CHCOs would complain that we couldn’t possible get HR service from someone else.

A good example is the Overseas Private Investment Corporation which, with 171 employees, has an AFGE recognition and its own HR and EEO staff. I’ am sure there are even smaller agencies that do the same thing. After all, they are all so unique. I guarantee that each and every CHCO that responded to the survey would apply for stress related OWCP payments if anyone suggested there may be sufficient commonality to merge their efforts, producing more resources and perhaps more of a pool of talent to develop.

The Most Amazing Findings of the Survey and Why Federal LR is So Broken

A couple of quotes from the study make one realize how far these folks have drifted from reality.

The report quotes CHCOs as saying, “We’re coming off an administration that was seen as being against unions. We felt the pendulum was favorable to management under the Bush administration.” (My emphasis) Then the report says that CHCOs believe “the cooperation of the unions could help in other reform areas of concern to CHCOs.”

So let me get this straight, what’s good for managers might not be good for CHCOs so we (the HR leadership) will do what we think best for us regardless of the administration’s policy.

Watch out Mr. President!

By the way, CHCOs, on your way to the love in with AFGE, remember that its current president was screaming “NO HR PEOPLE ON THE FORUMS!” at the top of his lungs at the first National Council session. Also remember that the politicos in a number of agencies have cut you out of those discussions as well. The good news, as I’m sure you’ll argue at a later date, is that you weren’t around and therefore can be held accountable for anything that happened.

If you think I’m exaggerating, read this snippet from the report:

One of the contrasts between the current administration and its immediate predecessor is its approach to dealing with federal employee unions. An early action taken by the Bush administration, on February 17, 2001, was to revoke Executive Order 12871 of October 1, 1993, establishing labor-management partnerships. By contrast, the Obama administration on December 14, 2009, issued Executive Order 13522, Creating Labor-Management Forums, to build a more collaborative approach to dealing with the unions. In discussing this change during our interviews, we discovered the change made little difference for a number of agencies, since they had continued to work collaboratively with employee unions from 1993 to today.” (my emphasis)

In other words, despite the intent or policy of the incumbent in the White House, elected by the people, CHCOs like mothers know best and will pick the administration policies they will implement based on self interest.

If there is a reason to wonder why these folks think their own staffs are lacking skills, they ought to take a class at the college of consistent thinking. What is surreal is that the job of chief human capital officer was itself created by that self same horrible Bush administration that they condemn in the survey. What is obvious is that they have failed to learn even the rudimental lessons of history and that until someone takes a critical look at how things got to their current state, no fix is remotely possible. Get some guts and get real.

On a side note, OPM never developed a classification standard for labor relations specialists. Our nation’s chief personnel policy developer has never addressed the requirements of the job. The standard was last revised in 1976 by the U.S. Civil Service Commission before we had a Federal labor statute or an OPM.

If you want to appreciate how crazy things are in DC, imagine if you can, that the Agency allegedly in charge of advising Agency management on labor relations apparently doesn’t have a clue as to what is important about Agency representatives’ jobs. I probably should not have mentioned this as it might provoke a herd of recently hatched reformers to go creating mischief out of their unrealized ignorant arrogance.

The above, as always, reflects my thinking and is the responsibility of no one else.

About the Author

Bob Gilson is a consultant with a specialty in working with and training Federal agencies to resolve employee problems at all levels. A retired agency labor and employee relations director, Bob has authored or co-authored a number of books dealing with Federal issues and also conducts training seminars.