The questions arise at almost every large federal agency: Is there reliable data on the workforce? Is there a plan to recruit the workforce of the future?
Three years ago, the Navy decided, for the first time, to try to answer those questions.
Some of the issues were obvious. More than 75 percent of the Navy's civil service workforce was 40 or older, a sign that experienced hands will soon be lost to retirement. The post-Cold War downsizing left a workforce short of certain skills. There was little focus on how to recruit a new generation and win the war for talent.
Taking a comprehensive look at nearly 180,000 civil service employees is time-consuming, but the Navy's effort is starting to pay off. Employees will soon be able to chart their careers, and managers will be able to better pinpoint recruitment.
Over the past two years, the Navy civilian workforce has been sorted into 21 "communities" -- such as engineering and science, industrial trades, security and law enforcement, and technology.
Each community, through employee surveys, analytical studies and review boards, is identifying what the Navy calls "core competencies" -- the knowledge, skills and attributes that each employee needs to help accomplish Navy goals and objectives.
The goal is to put "the right people in the right place with the right skills," said Jean M. Payne, director of the Navy's Civilian Community Management Division.
The Navy project also may help the Bush administration achieve another of its goals, the implementation of a "total force" concept. That, in some cases, could change the Defense Department's mix of military personnel, civil service employees and contractors.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has told Congress that he wants to create a more flexible workforce and has called for moving civil service employees into jobs filled by the military. The job conversions should free up military personnel to take on war-fighting jobs and other high-priority missions.
In fiscal 2004, the department converted more than 7,600 military positions to civil service or contractor jobs, said Army Lt. Col. Joe Richard, a Pentagon spokesman.
More than 16,000 military-to-civilian conversions are programmed for fiscal 2005 and additional conversions are planned for 2006 and 2007, Richard said.
The primary goal of the Navy's effort is to get better data for staffing decisions. Officials hope to collect more information about what skills and personal attributes are needed for a particular occupation and to provide civilian employees with a career road map, which is being based on a program developed for sailors and officers.
Payne and other Navy leaders plan to roll out the road map, called the Civilian 5 Vector Model, at a symposium tomorrow in Reston. The road map, which will be available on a Navy Web site, will give employees a way to measure career progress in five areas: professional development, leadership, personal development, certifications and qualifications, and performance.
Work on the model, which involves all the Navy communities, will not be finished until late this year, and the performance milestones probably will wait until the new National Security Personnel System, which is introducing performance-based pay into most of the department, is finished.
On the civil service side of the Navy, "people's success in their careers in the past has been, I would say, haphazard," Payne said. "At this time, there is no map for how I am going to progress in a particular job family. So this is going to provide the structure and the information so that people will be able to do that."
Employees, Payne said, will be able to map out careers in their field or, if they want to change careers, learn what they need to do to qualify for a different occupation. "Right now, you would be hard-pressed to figure it out," she said.
Managers also will have a better way of helping employees plan their futures and will have better information about what job competencies are needed when they recruit employees, she said.
Payne thinks the concept of "community management" will evolve as her office partners with military commands "to make sure what we are doing translates right."
She added, "It is learn as you go."