Policy Study

Getting the Right People for the Right Job

Solving Human Capital Challenges with Competitive Sourcing

Policy Summary

The federal government faces a crisis of human resource management. The federal workforce is aging: the baby boomers, with their skills and experience, are drawing nearer to retirement and new employees joining the workforce today have different employment options and different career expectations from the generation that preceded them, making government work less attractive.

Today, the average federal employee is 46 years old, as compared to 42 in 1990, and more than half the workforce is between 45 and 69 years old. By 2004, nearly one-third of the federal workforce will be eligible to retire and another 21 percent will be eligible for early retirement. That means more than 900,000 employees, or over 50 percent of the workforce, will be eligible to leave federal service. By 2010, approximately 71 percent of the current federal workforce will be eligible for either regular or early retirement and 40 percent of those employees are expected to retire. Furthermore, census bureau projections show that between 2010 and 2030 the workforce will shrink by 10 percent, making staffing the federal government even more difficult, with fewer choices yet more spots to fill.

Additionally, the work of the federal government has dramatically changed, creating new challenges to human capital resources. As more complex and technical agencies and programs were created over the last 50 years, a majority of federal workers are in higher pay scales where skills and expertise are in higher demand. Add inflexible rules and regulations that lead to a stifling work environment limiting creativity and personal development, and the government is left with difficult recruitment issues.

To address these issues, two pillars of the President’s Management Agenda (PMA) include the strategic management of human capital and competitive sourcing. They exemplify some of the most dramatic changes in management priorities and tools, and illustrate how the individual parts of the PMA are mutually reinforcing. The PMA is all about performance, and the changes include basing many aspects of human resource management on performance criteria. To date, those in federal agencies and in Congress who focus on human capital or on sourcing management and policy rarely seem to see that human capital is much more easily managed if an agency’s sourcing efforts are performance-based, and that sourcing efforts are more effective if human capital management is performance-based.

Following the PMA will lead agencies to determine their core competencies and decide whether to build internal capacity or contract for services from the private sector. Competitive sourcing has proven itself an important tool that produces dramatic, measurable results. Recognizing these successes, on May 29, 2003 the OMB released new A-76 guidelines to facilitate competitive sourcing. Sourcing more jobs and positions will help agencies tackle their human capital crunch, providing them with maximum flexibility in getting the job done effectively and efficiently. In turn, agencies will become more focused on the core missions of the agency while utilizing the highest performing mix of in-house assets and contractors. Essentially the focus becomes one where the agency has the internal capacity to manage service planning rather than actually participating in service delivery. Furthermore, the agencies will gain valuable access to expertise and a tremendous amount of flexibility in performing their missions. Thinking strategically about how an agency sources its assets allows it to have the right people, in the right place, at the right time.

Decentralization is another tool available to federal managers in coping with their human capital management plans. There are vast resources, in terms of talent and skills, outside of the beltway that can help human capital managers solve agency shortcomings. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, speaking about moving defense resources away from the Pentagon, said that “it’s a big country we’ve got, and everything does not have to be located in the Washington, D.C., area…I think that just the health of the country would be better if everything weren’t here.” Different labor markets around the country give human capital managers access to expertise and specializations that may not be available in sufficient quantity or quality inside the beltway.

It also would assist with national security and the continuity of the federal government in the event of a catastrophic event in the Washington, D.C. area. Again, Sectary Rumsfeld said it best when he opined, “concentration of Defense Department activities in a single area is probably not a smart idea.”