PRINCETON (US)—The federal hiring and personnel system in the United States is broken to the point of crisis, according to a recent report that recommends government and academic leaders work together to develop future public servants with skills to address 21st-century challenges.
The report was issued by a task force convened in 2007 by Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs to examine the changing nature of government service. Paul Volcker, former Federal Reserve Board chair who currently chairs President Obama’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board, led the task force, which was composed of an expert panel. For 18 months, the members explored how colleges, universities, and schools of public policy can educate and motivate top students for modern government service.
“The task force sought to identify the complex and changing nature of federal service, while highlighting the ongoing crisis in recruitment and retention—a crisis that’s particularly acute as reports indicate the federal government needs to add approximately 600,000 employees just during President Obama’s administration,” says William Barron Jr., who directed the task force. “The administration is already taking positive steps to address this important issue, though the report emphasizes that government needs to engage universities and schools of public policy more proactively to help encourage the next generation to [pursue] public service.”
The group examined the extreme demands placed on modern government, as well as the shifting career patterns in the work force. They also looked at the combined efforts of the federal government, schools of public policy, and public service organizations to create an environment where, according to the report, “individual students, career placement experts, government managers, and government leaders can better assure more flexible, rewarding, and productive public service careers.”
The task force identified four trends compounding the crisis: major failures in a list of government programs at the federal level; ebbing confidence in government institutions and leaders; a “broken” government hiring and personnel system; and an increased reliance on government subcontracting of programs and jobs.
In addition, the task force highlighted the anticipated baby boomer retirement wave, which is likely to exacerbate the personnel crisis.
The report notes that “the 2008 elections came after an alarming string of outright government failures and in the face of a mounting list of critical challenges.” Some of these failures included “the response to Hurricane Katrina . . . serious financial and performance issues with both defense and non-defense contractors, collapsing bridges, failure to adequately regulate the banking and mortgage industries, as well as unsafe meat, vegetables, fruit, cribs, toys, drugs, and other products.”
The report outlines several overarching recommendations for policymakers and the public.
First, schools of public policy must act as champions of government service for their own students and serve as a gateway to public service for other parts of their campuses. Working together, government agencies and schools of public policy also should develop “paths of service” for career opportunities for current and future federal employees.
Additionally, to replenish the ranks at all levels, the federal government must segment the applicant pool to better understand the skills, abilities, motivations, and professional needs of distinct career profiles—from traditional “lifers” to “career switchers” coming to government mid-career or later. The task force proposes establishing and maintaining a report-card system for staff recruitment, hiring, retention, and advancement.
The task force also recommends that schools of public policy work with government agencies and management experts to identify the skills and knowledge needed to allow current and future government officials to govern directly and through private and civic networks. To achieve this, the experts advise the federal government to initiate an interagency discussion to ensure departments and agencies are not outsourcing their core missions and oversight responsibilities.
“Government officials cannot just be monitoring,” the report states, “they must be actively managing in a networked environment.”
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