Getting answers from administration leaders


The Partnership for Public Service’s town hall on May 2, 2011, for Public Service Recognition Week. (Sam Kittner/Kittner.com)

To start, a young federal employee who is relatively new to federal service asked, “With the publicized climate and comments toward public service being so distressing, how do you suggest I stay motivated to continue to be excited about the mission and work of the federal government?”

OPM Director Berry: “Government service has been cool, and I think we can make it cool again. The way it’s going to be made cool is by you staying involved. You can do more good at a greater scale working for the federal government than you can in any other job anywhere. It’s that purpose that makes government cool from decade to decade. And it is the passion of our employees delivering those results that makes all Americans proud and unites us across party lines and ideologies. Find a mentor in your agency who can teach you how you can have that constant impact for good. And as you get better and go higher in your career, your impact for good only grows.”

The next question was from a federal employee who is in the last 10 months of her 30 years of government service. Her concern was around the institutional knowledge that federal retirees will be taking with them. She asked, “Is there any plan for some database or a pool of knowledge that can be referred to, as well as some kind of listing of experts in various areas that the federal government could call upon who happen to be retirees?”

Secretary of Transportation LaHood: “What I’ve tried to do over the past two and half years is meet with retirees that are walking out the door from DOT. Most of them are ready to walk out the door, volunteer in their church and take some time off. But those who have said to me, ‘I think I can be helpful,’ we will call upon them to be helpful as a retired annuitant or some other way through a government program to use their expertise. I would encourage others in positions of supervisory authority to meet with retirees before they walk out the door to see if they want to continue in some kind of public service.”

With many federal employees eligible to retire in the next four years, a management analyst with the Department of Treasury asked the panel about succession planning and “what can we do as public servants to prepare for this transition and not wait until something happens before we actually do something about it?”

Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan: “First, there are lots of federal agencies that don’t think about succession planning. I think the second thing is we really don’t train managers as managers enough. What I find is that there’s an expert in a technical field that’s great at their job, and we promote them and leave them to sink or swim. This is one of the things we heard from the [Federal Employee Viewpoint] survey--the training needs were deep, and particularly around management training. So we’ve doubled our training budget this year, and we’re training managers as managers, not as technicians. Part of that is [for] managers who are eligible for retirement. How do we make sure that knowledge that is really irreplaceable is passed on as we train these managers. Two simple things, but they’re absolutely critical to make sure we’re ready.”

One final question came from a FAA employee in her 35th year of federal service who wanted to know about implementing workplace flexibilities within agencies.

GSA Administrator Martha Johnson: “We’re at a tremendous turning point in terms of how we think about work. It’s not really where you are; it’s what you do. I think that it’s a culture that’s beginning to change, but it’s going to take a while. It’s not just about changing policies, it’s really deep restructuring of how we are doing our work, who we are serving [and] where we find them.”

Health & Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius: “One of the things I would love to take very seriously as we move forward is to have the federal government become the most family friendly workplace. It’s not just about women, it’s about men too who want to be good parents and good workers at the same time. To make people choose means that we lose too much talent, people don’t return from maternity leave or young dads don’t come back.”

More Q&As from the Federal Coach:

What is a Performance Improvement Officer?

Why do so many ‘slugs’ keep their jobs in government?

Tom Fox, of the Partnership for Public Service, explores workplace issues and provides advice for federal managers through analysis, interviews and reader Q&As in his Federal Coach blog for On Leadership.

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