OPM can do more to help close skills gap, says Dodaro


One of the primary reasons human capital remains on the Government Accountability Office's "high risk list" is the shortage of workers with specific critical skills, such as network analysis, computer forensics, acquisition and foreign language capabilities, said Gene Dodaro, comptroller general at GAO.

The Office of Personnel Management and the Chief Human Capital Officer's council have a working group to address these gaps, but more can be done, said Dodaro, Sept. 19 before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs subcommittee on oversight of government management, the federal workforce and the District of Columbia.

"There's a real need to understand the root causes of the skill gaps--why they occurred, the size of the skill gap, is it pervasive across the government, targeted to individual agencies or a subset of agencies--and to develop common, efficient, effective solutions to addressing the skill gap," said Dodaro.

There also needs to be more done around recruitment and retention on these key skills. Dodaro said OPM could counsel agencies on the effective use of the hiring flexibilities, including special pay rates, in order to increase recruitment.

Director of OPM John Berry assured lawmakers that his agency is focused on recruiting and retaining employees with in-demand skills.

Information technology, human resources, acquisition, program auditors and economists "are areas where we regularly have a hard time recruiting and they are areas that--when we look at the identification of where are those big retirement bubbles coming--some of those are in those areas that we must address," said Berry.

As OPM and the CHCO council roll out plans to address the skill gap, they should also circle back to ensure they've actually solved the problem, said Dodaro.

"This needs to be a continuous process because additional skills gaps will occur and additional challenges will come up over time," Dodaro added.

Berry said he welcomes the guidance provided by GAO.

"We don't see the Government Accountability Office as a gotcha. We see them as a partner," said Berry. "We're going to continue to press it and my hope is, a year from now we may be coming off that list, but that's Gene's determination."

During the hearing, Berry also provided an update on OPM's efforts to reduce its retirement processing backlog, which it has reduced from 60,000 to 40,000 cases. Auditors have repeatedly targeted OPM's efforts to modernize paper claims. Berry said a modernization strategy is forthcoming and will be presented to the Office of Management and Budget through its 2014 budget.

The "IT strategy will have short term, medium term and long term approaches to how we can ultimately be where we need to get, which is to have this be a totally electronic process," said Berry.

For more:
- go to the hearing page (includes prepared testimony and an archived webcast)

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