Agencies must improve handling of executive pipeline, report says

The Department of Labor headquarters on May 3. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP-Getty).
The headquarters of a federal agency, the Department of Labor, in Washington, D.C. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP-Getty).

Most federal agencies are doing a poor job of identifying, developing, recruiting and selecting the government’s most senior leaders, according to a report from a good-government group.

The Partnership for Public Service said in its analysis that the problem is especially troubling because of the complex challenges facing the government and the expected wave of senior-executive retirements.

“For our federal government to secure the executive talent it needs for the future, agencies must bolster their talent pipelines and take a more strategic approach to developing the capabilities of potential leaders who can serve as government-wide assets,” the report said.

The findings are equivalent of criticizing a basketball team for doing a poor job of developing its bench and acquiring future stars. The report noted that the number of retirements among senior executives has increased during the past several years, rising from 5.8 percent of the pool in 2009 to 8.3 percent in 2012.

For its analysis, the partnership conducted focus groups and interviewed political leaders, senior executives and human resources personnel from federal agencies across the government.

The group found that agencies do little in the way of coordinating with each other on the issue of executive development and that they generally lack a cohesive strategy for it.

The partnership also determined that agencies show a strong tendency to stick with internal candidates instead of seeking external talent that can offer different perspectives.

During the first three quarters of fiscal 2012, about three-quarters of new senior executives were hired from within the agency in which they were already working, according to the study.

“Agencies normally don’t think about hiring external candidates unless the circumstances are unusual—an emergency backlog, a desperate need for new skills, the need to create a new agency from scratch,” the report said.

The partnership recommended that the federal government prioritize executive development and develop a comprehensive strategy for dealing with it, in addition to creating a central authority — potentially led by the Office of Personnel Management’s deputy director for management and the President’s Management Council — that would oversee the process.

To connect with Josh Hicks, follow his Twitter feed, friend his Facebook page or e-mail josh.hicks@washpost.comFor more federal news, visit The Federal Eye, The Fed Page and Post Politics. E-mail federalworker@washpost.com with news tips and other suggestions.

Josh Hicks covers the federal government and anchors the Federal Eye blog. He reported for newspapers in the Detroit and Seattle suburbs before joining the Post as a contributor to Glenn Kessler’s Fact Checker blog in 2011.
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