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Strategic Human Resources Management

Special Studies On the Federal Civil Service

We study human resource management issues and policies that have a critical effect on the Federal civil service. These studies are prompted by analyses of personnel trends, the findings from oversight reviews of agencies, and by such stakeholders as the Congress and other interested parties. Following are studies conducted in 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, and 2001.

  • A Work in Progress: Openness in the Employment Process II
    This study is a follow-up to our Opportunity Lost study, which examined the extent to which Federal agencies were meeting their obligation to publicly announce FY 1997 vacancies. This study reports a statistically valid estimate for vacancies filled in FY 1999 and finds that notable improvement has occurred since the first study. However, since the study finds that only 76 percent of vacancies are announced as required, agencies and OPM still have work to do to achieve full public notice. The report discusses the common reasons cited by agencies for failure to announce and includes recommendations to improve compliance. The field work for this special study was conducted by OPM's Chicago Oversight Division.


  • Telework Works: A Compendium of Success Stories
    This report showcases examples of telework success stories from a variety of jobs and work situations. The Office of Personnel Management undertook this study in recognition of its leadership role to encourage agencies to expand their telework programs. Since its inception in 1990 as a Federal pilot project, telework, also known as telecommuting and flexiplace, has become an important tool in the array of work/life programs. Its original goals were to save energy, improve air quality, reduce congestion and stress on our roads and bridges, and enhance the quality of family-friendly and other initiatives for Federal workers. This compendium includes examples of employees who have formal agreements to work at least one day per week away from the traditional office. The willingness of supervisors to step away from the long-standing model of the workplace as the central point where employees assemble to get their work done is crucial to a successful telework experience. Equally critical are a motivated, self-starting employee who can work independently and a clear set of agreed upon performance expectations. The field work for this special study was completed by OPM's Philadelphia Oversight Division.

  • Veterans: Getting Their Preference?
    This report describes a study conducted to determine whether Federal agencies fully and fairly considered veterans' preference eligibles in their hiring decisions under delegated examining during Fiscal Year 1999, and to ensure that staffing flexibilities were not being systematically misued to intentionally avoid hiring veterans. The report concludes that veterans continue to be an important source of highly qualified candidates for Federal employment. Federal agencies are appropriately administering entitlement to veterans' preference under title 5, United States Code. They are fully and fairly considering veterans' preference eligibles in their hiring decisions and are not misusing staffing flexibilities to intentionally avoid hiring veterans. No substantive changes are needed in the current delegated examining process to ensure full and fair consideration of veterans.

  • Supervisors in the Federal Government: A Wake-Up Call
    We conducted the study to assess the status of current efforts in Federal agencies to identify, select, develop, and evaluate first-level supervisors. In brief, we found that: (1) agencies need to do a better job of selecting and developing first-level supervisors; (2) most agencies still do not identify employees with supervisory potential and develop them for future leadership positions; (3) supervisors believe that leadership development is given a low priority; and, (4) supervisors take issue with the way their performance is evaluated. They feel that the ability to get work done through people should be given more weight. This study should serve as a wake-up call for agencies to take immediate action to address a serious problem that has the potential to worsen. Agencies must make the selection and development of first-level supervisors a top human resource management priority.

  • Federal Benefits Counseling: Putting the Pieces Together finds that benefits counselors believe that the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and other agencies provide enough information to counsel employees. They also say there is not enough time to keep up with all the information they receive. This is true even though counselors see the OPM web site as an invaluable user-friendly resource. The study also finds that, while employees are satisfied overall with the benefits information their agencies provide, they also need more information in particular areas, including retirement benefits, financial planning, and Social Security. In addition, employees want pre-retirement seminars earlier in their careers. The report commits OPM to improving benefits counselor training and marketing benefits counseling tools. Also, the report recommends that agencies ensure that benefits counselors receive sufficient training and that supervisors have necessary resources to answer basic questions. OPM will implement those activities that are within our control. For others, we need agency support and encourage agencies to implement the recommendations that will improve agency benefits counseling efforts.

  • Achieving a Balance: Meeting Work and Family Obligations describes work and family workplace arrangements available to Federal employees. Data was gathered during OPM oversight evaluations conducted from May 1998 through September 1999. The study notes that family-friendly programs are available at most Federal agency locations. At these sites, employees and managers are familiar with available programs and supportive of their use. However, the report does note the need for supervisor and manager training that would help address the need for consistent application of flexibilities across the agency and for improved measurement and feedback on program effectiveness.  The report also offers recommendations to enhance the Federal Government's strong work and family efforts.

  • Incentive Awards - The Changing Face of Performance Recognition
    In 1995, OPM issued changes to the incentive award regulations designed to give agencies more flexibility in tailoring award programs to their particular situations and needs. When OPM reviewed agency award programs in 15 agencies in FY 1996 and FY1997, we found that a number of agencies were on the verge of implementing changes based on the 1995 regulations (see our 1998 Report of a Special Study on Incentive Awards). This report is based on a followup review at the same 15 agencies. We describe in some detail the changes they have made to date and their assessment of the results of those changes.

  • The Three Rs: Lessons Learned from Recruitment, Retention, and Relocation Incentives confirmed that use of the 3Rs has grown slowly since the incentives became available in 1991, but is experiencing significant recent increases. Limited resources and high approval levels deter greater use. When used, the 3Rs are considered by agency users to be highly beneficial in attracting and retaining employees, particularly when used in conjunction with other monetary and non-monetary human resource management flexibilities. The report contains a number of recommendations for agencies and OPM to increase awareness of the 3Rs, to streamline their use, and to assess their overall effectiveness. OPM is taking steps to increase governmentwide awareness, identify changes in law or regulation to make the incentives more useful, and help agencies assess results to improve strategic use of the 3Rs in their workforce planning and recruitment.

  • Strategic Human Resources Management: Aligning with the Mission details the progress Federal agencies have made in aligning human resources management with the agency mission. Alignment of HRM to the organizational mission is the highest level an agency can attain in HRM accountability. Even the most effective, legally compliant HR programs cannot ultimately be successful if they do not support the goals of the organization. Research into practices at over 30 Federal agencies indicates that deliberate alignment of HR with the agency mission is much less rare than it once was. But has HR truly become a strategic partner with top agency management?

  • Opportunity Lost: Openness in the Employment Process reports a statistically valid estimate of the extent to which federal agencies are complying with their obligation to provide public information on available Federal job vacancies in order to achieve fair and open competition. The report identifies a substantial deficiency in governmentwide compliance, discusses the common reasons cited by agencies for their actions, and includes recommendations to achieve full public notice.

  • An Occupation in Transition is a three-part study of the changes affecting the Human Resources community. Using data from the Central Personnel Data File (CPDF), Part 1, Federal Human Resources Employment Trends, lays the groundwork by establishing a current statistical profile and identifying trends that affect the Human Resources profession. Part 2, Looking to the Future: Human Resources Competencies, explores the issue of competencies and competency models as they relate to the Human Resource function. Part 3, The HR Workforce: Meeting the Challenge of Change, presents the results of original research on the competencies that are required and those currently held by the Federal Human Resources workforce. The report also identifies ways to address competency gaps and transform the Human Resources function to a strategic partner in ensuring organizational effectiveness.

    Part 1: Federal Human Resources Employment Trends

    Part 2: Looking to the Future: Human Resources Competencies

    Part 3: The HR Workforce: Meeting the Challenge of Change

  • Incentive Awards Study summarizes the results of a two-year review of incentive awards programs in 15 agencies and focuses on assessing the extent to which agencies' incentive awards programs are operating in accordance with Merit System Principles. This report was shared by letter with those agencies who were involved in the study.

  • Poor Performers in Government: A Quest for the True Story reports a first-time ever (statistically valid) estimate of the size of the "poor performer problem" in the Federal Government. In addition, the study provides first-hand accounts of supervisors who have actually taken official action against a poor performer, and it looks at the non-Federal workplace for indicators of the scope of the poor performer problem there. Based on this new information, the study draws conclusions and make recommendations that will help improve the Government's approach to performance management.

  • Appropriateness of Non-Technical Training assesses whether agencies are adhering to legal appropriateness criteria in conducting non-technical training.   The study was prompted by congressional concern about such training.

  • Workers Compensation - Administration Laboratory Site Study shows that a modest and intelligent investment in workers compensation program administration can reap tremendous benefits and savings.   In several of the test sites reviewed, over $3 million was saved at only marginal expense.   A broader application of these "lessons learned" across government could produce savings totaling several hundred million dollars a year.

  • Deregulation and Delegation of Human Resources Management in the Federal Government is a governmentwide analysis of the current state in the Federal civil service and identifies those agencies that have made the greatest strides.

  • Human Resources Management Policies and Practices in Title 5-Exempt Organizations describes how agencies, or parts of agencies, that are exempt from the regular civil service laws of title 5 operate their staffing, compensation, performance management, awards, benefits, family-friendly, training, employee protection, and labor relations programs.   The study also describes their Human Resoures Management (HRM) innovations and the extent to which these agencies conform the HRM practices to the merit systems principles.

  • Downsizing In the Federal Government: describes how a cross section of Federal agencies planned and carried out downsizing during the period 1994 through 1996 and the results achieved in terms of impact on their workforce, organizations, and missions.

For more information on any of these studies, email

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