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OPM Director Outlines Top Priorities for Federal Workforce

The agency is releasing new guidance and tools for hiring and workforce initiatives.

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The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) is accelerating workforce development and building out new initiatives to support new demands following the onset of COVID-19 and passage of the Biden Administration’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

“We’re focused on specific policy priorities to guide our actions in this pivotal moment, from a talent search to meet our infrastructure needs, to rebuilding the federal workforce in the wake of sustained attrition, to ensuring the age profile and skill sets of the federal workforce meets the needs of the moment,” OPM Director Kiran Ahuja said during a National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA) webinar last week.

OPM is directing resources and expertise to help agencies rebuild and retain the federal workforce by improving diversity and managing talent. In fiscal year 2021, OPM onboarded more than 340 employees. Ahuja said she’ll be working to elevate the agency as a strategic community capital partner with the federal government.

One key group for this will be the Chief Human Capital Officers (CHCO) Council, which plays a critical role in selecting, developing, training and managing a high-quality, productive workforce.

“CHCO helps us spread the most promising human capital solutions across the federal government. They deliver a vital advice and practical solutions and welts our influence within the federal workforce,” Ahuja said. “The council acts as a thought partner when considering the impact of personnel policies on agency talent and relationships.”

OPM has also been pivotal in devising and implementing appropriate government actions to protect the federal workforce from COVID-19. The office recently released an updated 2021 guide to telework to help government take advantage of the flexibilities around remote to attract talent and promote the agency mission, as well as to make sure that government remains a competitive employment opportunity.

“We know that COVID-19 — that’s upended our work life as we know it,” Ahuja said. “It’s shown that we can embrace flexibilities, and we can make the government more agile and resilient.”

Following Congress passing the bipartisan infrastructure law, agencies have been tasked in rebuilding the federal workforce. OPM developed a “Tiger Team,” an internal team featuring a 30-person staff from the agency’s oversight, policy, human resources and CHCO Council, to accelerate the mission of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. The team will help agencies align leadership, survey the workforce to identify needs, plan sourcing and recruiting, integrating hiring flexibilities and streamlining talent search processes.

OPM also released a Hiring Playbook that outlines tools and processes for bolstering the federal workforce. It also plans to release a USA jobs site to target key infrastructure hiring and support Biden’s new legislation.

“As a part of that, we have been setting up not only the capacity within our agency to really support this work across the federal government, but we’ve also been creating tools to make sure that we’re setting up agencies for success,” Ahuja said.

Ahuja added that the agency has accelerated its presidential management fellowship program, seeing an increase of approximately 20% of applicants, which is driving new talent across government. Bringing in new talent and closing the age gap will not only help government remain competitive, but also remain agile and adaptable.

“The goal was not just to build a federal workforce that meets the challenges for today. It really is about laying out the foundation for a federal government that will allow Americans to thrive or decades to come,” Ahuja said.

Ongoing efforts around diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility (DEI&A) will be top priorities. OPM has been encouraging agencies to appoint chief diversity officers who will work with human resources leaders and others to identify new sources of talent.

“We certainly can’t deliver on what we need to do as civil servants for the American public unless we bring people in who come from so many different communities across this country to really bring what they know from their communities to help us serve the American public,” Ahuja said. “We have a real opportunity to be a model in this area. I’m excited that OPM is taking a leadership role and leading the government wide effort around DEI&A.”

Biden’s executive order on DEI&A has drastically expanded requirements around diversity and equity across the workforce. To effectively implement the the order, Ahuja said there needs to be a focus on educating both leaders and employees on DEI&A to create a common understanding. These learning communities will help address substantive issues, develop culture and create a more equitable environment.

“We are not just creating another mechanism where we’re just creating reports and plans,” Ahuja said. “There has been a massive resurgence within the federal government.”

As OPM prepares to implement Biden’s upcoming management agenda, Ahuja said the agency will focus on four priority areas: early career talent, hiring, pay and the future of work. In 2022, OPM will reevaluate and revise its pathways program to strengthen its relationships with colleges, trade schools and other learning institutions.

“There’s so much more we can do both in what we can accomplish within the federal government and also the trends that we can see across the country,” Ahuja said. “We’re in a work revolution. Being the largest employer in this country, we should embrace it as well as think about the trends.”

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