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OPM Director Katherine Archuleta on strengthening the federal workforce

Katherine Archuleta is the director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM), the federal government’s human resources agency. Archuleta has had a long career in government, holding key staff positions in the Departments of Transportation and Energy during the Clinton administration and in the Department of Labor during the Obama administration.

Archuleta spoke about her efforts to strengthen the federal workforce with Tom Fox, a guest writer for On Leadership and vice president for leadership and innovation at the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service. Fox also heads up their Center for Government Leadership.

Q. What is the single most important thing you’ve learned since becoming director of the Office of Personnel Management?

OPM Director Katherine Archuleta (courtesy of OPM) OPM Director Katherine Archuleta (courtesy of OPM)

A. Something that I’ve done since the beginning of my tenure is to reach out every day to individual employees. It’s been a tough time for employees — they’ve faced furloughs, sequestration, a shutdown and budget cuts. When I first started, I expected to hear a lot of concern in their voices and words about how tough it is for them. But when I ask how they’re doing, they talk about their work with a wonderful sense of dedication and commitment. That’s been a very important eye-opener for me.

Q. What are the most critical challenges facing OPM?

A. The most important issue is making sure that we have talented individuals available for government service. That goes to a lot of different pieces, not only on the hiring side but also on the training side. The other thing we’re focused on is making sure that we help agencies think about how they make their workforce more diverse and inclusive. This not only means hiring people who are underrepresented in federal service, but including them in the policies and practices that affect their work every day.

Q. What are you doing to help managers better understand how employees feel about their jobs and the work environment?

A. Employee engagement is really a priority for the president and for me. There are a few ways that we’re doing that. First, there is the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey, which is a very important feedback loop for us. We have been able to assist agencies in analyzing the data and using the information to improve the workplace. We are taking the survey data and creating an engagement dashboard, so each of the managers of a department or agency has a birds-eye look of how they’re doing on employee engagement.

Q. What are some of the talent needs of the federal workforce?

A. We have to look at the millennial generation, because we need to feed the pipeline. We’ve got to think about how we recruit into the science, technology, engineering and mathematics areas and be competitive. We also have to find those mid-career individuals who want to spend some time in public service, as well as those at the senior executive level. We need different approaches because each of those age groups has different interests.

Q. What specific issues are you are focusing on to enhance these recruitment efforts?

A. My staff has been looking at the messaging that we’re doing in recruitment. For the millennial generation, how do we use social media to catch their eye in that 20-second window of opportunity that we have? We also have to think about the application process. Are there aspects of the Web site that are preventing applicants from actually completing the process? We have a group that’s looking at that. We are also looking at how applicants are screened by hiring managers, and seeking to better understand the needs of hiring managers and what can we do to help them bring in more underrepresented groups. And then finally once we hire someone, we are examining how we keep them.

This is Public Service Recognition Week, and agencies and departments across the country are recognizing their employees. I hope the general public will realize that federal employees are their neighbors and the people who make so many things happen in their communities. I’m often humbled by the incredible work that employees do every day, and I’m grateful to be their champion.

Read also:

Go on, thank a federal worker

Finalists named for 2014 Service to America medals

Like On Leadership? Follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

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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