U.S. Department of Agriculture: Need for Improved Workforce Planning

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 1990-03-06.

Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)

                   U.S. DEPARTMENT
Milrr’h   I!)!)0

                   OF AGRICULTURE
                   Need for Improved
                   Workforce Planning
              :   \


                          United States
&kO          //
                          General Accounting Office
                          Washington, D.C. 20548

             t            Resources, Community,   and
            !/            Economic Development    Division

                          H-23836 1

                          March 6,199O

                          The Honorable Clayton Yeutter
                          The Secretary of Agriculture

                          Dear Mr. Secretary:

                          This is the second report on specific issues identified during our man-
                          agement review of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) that we
                          believe should be brought to your attention. We plan to issue our final
                          report on the results of our review later this year. This report describes
                          the need for improved workforce planning and recommends that a
                          framework be developed at the departmental level to guide IJSDA agen-
                          cies in developing consistent and effective workforce plans.

                          In summary, effective workforce planning is a vital tool to ensure that
                          people with appropriate skills and training are in place to implement
                          policies and programs now and in the future. Because USDA is faced with
                          managing new technologies and cross-cutting program issues as well as
                          rapidly changing workforce demographics, we believe the time is right
                          to take steps toward systematically planning for its workforce needs. In
                          recognition of this need, some agencies have taken steps to improve
                          their workforce planning, but much more needs to be done. Specifically,
                          IJSDA'S Office of Personnel (OP) needs to develop and implement Depart-
                          ment-wide workforce-planning guidelines and mechanisms for monitor-
                          ing progress.

                          IJSDA has a policy of decentralized personnel management in which most
Background                agencies act independently in such activities as recruiting and training.
                          Recruiting and training the right people for developing policies and
                          implementing programs is a major challenge in IJSDA. It will become even
                          more difficult in the future as USDA attempts to cope with new and
                          increasingly complex issues such as food safety, biotechnology, and
                          environmental concerns. These issues cut across agency and program
                          lines and require specialized skills. Senior USDA officials recognize these
                          challenges and have expressed substantial concern over the Depart-
                          ment’s ability to hire the people they need and to retain a quality
                          workforce over the coming years. Many believe that human resource
                          management is one of the major management challenges facing IJSDA

                          Page 1                        GAO/RCED-90-97   Need for Improved   Workforce   Planning
.-   -&--.


                            We believe that many USDA workforce problems exist because most USDA
I ’portance of              agencies lack the means for effectively determining their workforce
w”,orkforce Planning        needs and for developing a plan to meet those needs. Effective manage-
                            ment of human resources requires, among other things, recruiting, train-
                            ing, and retaining the right people for job needs now and in the future. A
                            fully developed workforce-planning process should be a vital part of
                            management planning and decision making so that personnel require-
                            ments are geared to meet program objectives. An effective plan contains
                            a disciplined approach for

                       .   identifying the number of people and types of skills-administrative,
                           managerial, scientific and technical-needed to accomplish both short-
                           and long-term agency goals;
                       .   ascertaining the composition of the present workforce, comparing it to
                           both current and future needs, and identifying gaps - areas where prob-
                           lems exist or are likely to occur;
                       .   developing a specific agenda for addressing human resource activities-
                           recruitment, training, retraining, automation, union relations, and con-
                           tracting arrangements;
                       .   determining the associated costs of implementing this agenda; and
                       .   assessing the impacts of the related personnel actions.

                           Workforce planning should cover both the short- and long-run, and the
                           results should be integrated into the organization’s overall budget for-
                           mulation processes to ensure sufficient funding and managerial support
                           to implement the plan. The importance of this integration was noted by
                           the President’s Council on Management Improvement who reported that
                           while private sector organizations integrate human resource planning
                           into the business planning process, federal agencies generally do pro-
                           gram and budget planning separately from human resource planning.
                           The Council concluded that “the budget process itself becomes the
                           mechanism for the allocation of human resources.“’

                           IJSDA agencies are experiencing problems recruiting highly skilled work-
USDA Faces Many            ers, providing adequate training to employees, developing effective
Workforce Problems         managers, and managing a culturally diverse workforce. These problems
                           are longstanding, pervasive, and will likely continue given present
                           trends in IJSDA and in the federal government.

                           ‘Applying t,he Ikst to Government: Improving the Management of Human Resources in the Federal
                           Govcrnmcnt Through a Private-Public Partnership, vol. II, sponsored by the President’s Council on
                           Management Improvement, 1987.

                           Page 2                                 GAO/RCEDBO-97      Need for Improved   Workforce   Planning


    In recruiting, for example, USDA'S growing involvement in such issues as
    food safety, water quality, and biotechnology requires more scientists in
    the workforce. However, a shortage of scientists in general, as well as
    competition from private sector employers, makes recruitment very dif-
    ficult for several USDA agencies. Agencies in USDA also sometimes find
    themselves competing against each other for people from the same job
    occupations, a condition which is counterproductive from a departmen-
    tal standpoint. Also, prospective recruits often have little knowledge of
    USDA as an employer because USDA has no departmental recruiting pro-
    gram and individual agencies generally do not refer applicants to other
    agencies as a prospective employer. However, OP has recently contracted
    to develop a video tape for recruiting that relates departmental informa-
    tion to potential applicants.

    As the agricultural economy becomes more consumer-driven than pro-
    duction-oriented, USDA needs employees with backgrounds in marketing
    management to supplement the skills of their other employees trained in
    the agricultural sciences. USDA recognizes that few universities offer
    agribusiness education which emphasizes marketing. For example,
    instead of expanding its workforce mix by competing for the few gradu-
    ates with agribusiness marketing management backgrounds, the Foreign
    Agricultural Service continues to focus its recruiting efforts solely on
    graduates of traditional programs in agricultural economics who do not
    have marketing training.

    When we examined the area of employee training, we found inadequate
    levels of training for USM staff and management. Poorly or inadequately
    trained staff has been identified as a cause for the operational problems
    described in our and USDA Inspector General (IG) reports. For example, in
    our report on the Farmers Home Administration’s (FmHA) loan making
    practices, we found that county supervisors were not properly trained
    in credit analysis and, as a result, were unable to make financially sound
    decisions and give proper advice to borrowers.’ Because USDA has made a
    large investment in computer technology, computer training is impor-
    tant so that staff can effectively and efficiently use this resource. How-
    ever, this training has often been untimely and inadequate. For example,
    a recent IG audit of FIIIHA field automation found FIIIHA did not realize the
    full potential of the field office automation because of insufficient train-
    ing and ineffective software applications.:’This resulted in only partially

    ‘Farmers Home Administration: Sounder Loans Would Require Revised Loan-Making Criteria (GAO/
         - 89 - 9, Feb. 14,lQSQ).

    “Audit of FmHA Field Office Automation (USDA Office of the Inspector General, Aug. 30, 1988).

    Page 3                                GAO/RCED-90-97     Need for Improved   Workforce   Planning

achieving the $16 million savings projected from field automation and
delaying subsequent benefits of $137 million. One of our recent reports
cited FmHA'S senior Information Resources Management official as say-
ing that his agency did not have staff with sufficient knowledge and
expertise to effectively develop a strategic modernization plan covering
planned purchases of $100 million in automation equipment4

Problems also exist in management training. A USDA study, “Supervi-
sory, Managerial and Executive Training and Development in USDA”,
completed as part of the OMB’s “Reform 88” initiative, identified poor
managerial skills throughout the Department. The study noted that USDA
agencies are promoting people with strong technical skills to managerial
positions without providing appropriate supervisory training. Also,
most of the Department’s senior executives expressed a need to be more
aware of current events, policies, and initiatives that affect their agen-
cies and positions. While agency officials told us that training funds are
vulnerable to budget cuts and that training receives little congressional
support, workforce planning could provide a way for USDA to more effec-
tively manage its training resources and better support the need for
training in its budget requests.

USDA also faces continuing problems in achieving and maintaining an
ethnically diverse workforce, an area of concern among USDA managers
for the last several years. Throughout our review, senior managers fre-
quently cited USDA’S poor performance in Equal Employment Opportu-
nity (EEO) issues, and despite past Secretarial emphasis on making EEO a
top management priority, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
figures show USDA far behind most federal agencies in ranking the per-
centage of women and minorities in the total workforce. USDA’S recent
report on affirmative action documented many problems in IJSDA EEO
recruitment efforts5 For example, the report points out that USDA’S
decentralized personnel structure is not conducive to USDA agencies
working together to share information, air successful strategies and
sources, efficiently use allocated funds, develop an internal recruitment
assistance network, or efficiently utilize resources. The report further
noted the lack of a Department-wide system to efficiently coordinate,

‘Information Management: Issues Important to Farmers Home Administration Systems Modernization
(GAO/I-64     _ _ , Aug. 21,1989).
“Federal Affirmative Employment Multi-Year Program Plan for FY 1988 through FY 1992, USDA,
Office of Advocacy and Enterprise (April 8,1988).

Page 4                              GAO/RCED-90-97      Need for Improved   Workforce   Planning

                                            IX    ,.,

       I           ~
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                           monitor, and evaluate the effectiveness of recruitment efforts; to iden-
                           tify deficiencies; and to make appropriate modifications when deficien-
                           cies are observed. In response to these issues, the Assistant Secretary
                           for Administration is currently developing a strategy for achieving
                           Department-wide workforce diversity.

                           In addition to the problems just described, USDA will face new challenges
                           in the future. The Office of Personnel Management and the Department
                           of Labor each recently released reports showing workforce trends that
                           will make attracting, retaining, and maintaining a high quality
                           workforce more difficult in the future for USDA and all federal agencies.”
                           The reports predicted that over the next 12 years, Federal managers
                           will face more competition in hiring and retaining employees due to a
                           national decline in the number of new workers, a more diverse
                           workforce in terms of women and minorities, and an aging workforce.
                           These factors will require federal departments and agencies to place
                           greater energy on training and motivation.

                           While some USDA agencies have begun to address the human resource
Limited Workforce          problems discussed above, most personnel systems are not comprehen-
Plagning Activities        sive and generally address only a single year’s needs. For example, FmHA
Have Begun                 officials told us that they use their Resource Measurement System to
                           determine staffing needs. However, the system does not project staff
                           needs beyond one or two years. Also, the Agricultural Stabilization and
                           Conservation Service employs a Position Management System to identify
                           needed positions and to ensure that positions and their functions are
                           properly structured. However, the system covers only short-range needs
                           and does not include important elements of workforce planning, such as
                           planning for short- and long-term staff and managerial-development

                           Some agencies, however, are laying the groundwork for effective
                           workforce planning. For example:

                       l   The Forest Service employs a Strategic Human Resource Guide, which
                           calls for forecasting skill-mix changes and attrition through fiscal year
                           1995, for preparing annual recruitment recommendations through fiscal
                           year 1991, and for measuring progress toward employment goals. The

                           “Workforce 2000: Work and Workers for the 21st Century, The Hudson Institute; Indianapolis, Indi-
                           ana, June 1987; and Civil Service 2000, The Hudson Institute, prepared by the Office of Personnel
                           Management, June 1988.

                           Page 5                                 GAO/RCED90-97      Need for Improved   Workforce   Planning
                                agency recognized that varying degrees of attention and commitment to
                                workforce planning in the past left them unable to ensure that service-
                                wide needs would continue to be met.
                            l   The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) is reorganizing
                                its personnel function to include workforce planning. The reorganization
                                is viewed as part of the agency’s efforts to achieve the Administrator’s
                                goal of making APIIIS a world leader in the appropriate use of state-of-
                                the-art methodology and technology in delivering services. A related
                                goal, to develop specific programs to help ensure that all employees
                                have the capabilities to perform effectively, is also dependent on the
                                existence of a viable workforce-planning system. APHIS has already
                                started work in this area by collecting needed workforce information.

17’DA Recognizes the Need       Although these tentative steps toward workforce planning are encour-
f (E;
   r Workforce Planning         aging, without central direction and support the initiatives may be sti-
                                fled and those agencies without workforce planning may never develop
aJld Needs to Take Action       it. Officials of IJSDA'S OP recognize the importance of workforce planning,
                                but have not taken a leadership role in developing workforce-planning
                                guidance for agencies to follow nor have they instituted a mechanism
                                for tracking and monitoring individual agency planning systems.

                                Most IJSDA human resource management functions have been delegated
                                to the individual agencies. OPprovides guidance and advisory services to
                                agencies on a variety of human resources matters on an as needed basis.
                                OP officials told us they recognize that weaknesses exist in workforce
                                planning among the agencies. In response to this, they are taking some
                                action to address workforce related problems. For example, OP organized
                                a task force, consisting of mostly agency personnel, on workforce plan-
                                ning as part of a new marketing strategy aimed at improving USDA'S
                                image as an employer and thereby enhancing its ability to recruit and
                                retain quality employees. The task force’s existence is indicative of the
                                growing concern in IJSDA with the need for improved workforce plan-
                                ning. Because 01’lacked the resources to staff and fund a task force on
                                their own, they asked individual agencies to volunteer their resources in
                                order to continue the task force activities. However, there still exists no
                                departmental policy on workforce planning.

                                As another part of this marketing strategy, OP is developing a rJsDA-wide
                                recruitment plan. The purpose of the plan is to provide prospective
                                employees with comprehensive and up-to-date information on the
                                Department’s work and the variety of occupational skills required to

                                Page 6                       GAO/RCED-90-97   Need for Improved   Workforce   Planning

                       conduct its operations. A departmental view of workforce needs for the
                       future would give OP'S marketing plan a practical focus.

                       The quality of workforce planning in agencies could also be greatly
                       enhanced by departmental policy, guidance and monitoring. Consistent
                       workforce-planning standards and guidance are needed to encourage all
                       agencies to initiate workforce planning and to reinforce agencies’efforts
                       already undertaken. Such guidance would provide an overall framework
                       for consistency in developing agency workforce planning systems. It
                       would also enhance USDA'S ability to forecast its human resource needs
                       by providing a degree of uniformity in the individual agencies’manage-
                       ment and data systems, a capability that USDA does not have now. It
                       must be recognized, however, that promulgating guidance will not
                       ensure that the desired uniformity is obtained. Instituting workforce
                       planning at USDA will also require assigning accountability within agen-
                       cies and continuous monitoring by OP if Department-wide compliance is
                       to be maintained at an acceptable level. Although each agency has indi-
                       vidual human resource needs to address, standards on workforce plan-
                       ning would help accomplish Department-wide and cross-cutting goals.

                       Because of the importance of human resource management to the
Importance of Acting   Department, and the heightened interest and increased activity within
Now                    ~JSDAagencies, USDA could benefit from the timely promulgation of
                       Department-wide guidance on workforce planning. For example, in
                       December 1989, OP, working with the National Finance Center, made
                       comprehensive, historical personnel data directly available to USDA agen-
                       cies for the first time and is currently providing training to agencies for
                       its use. This historical data is an important tool for forecasting and per-
                       forming trend analysis, a key element in workforce planning. Many
                       agencies are waiting for this data and one is already starting to imple-
                       ment its own reporting system and special software. Without a frame-
                       work of prescribed standards, one agency’s system may not be able to
                       provide data compatible with data from another agency’s system.
                       Therefore, department-wide data collection and analysis would be diffi-
                       cult, perhaps requiring costly system modifications in the future. Uni-
                       form workforce-planning standards could guide the development of
                       individual systems now, before they have been fully developed and
                       implemented. Such an approach would be less costly than changing sys-
                       tems after they have been developed and placed in operation.

                       Page 7                       GAO/RCED-9097   Need for Improved Workforce   Planning

                      Workforce planning gives officials a tool for managing human resources.
Co$clusions           A workforce-planning system establishes the number of employees
                      needed, the staff and managerial training and development required,
                      and the recruitment and other alternatives-such as contracting or
                      automation-available      for meeting program goals. Furthermore, when
                      properly implemented, the approach ties human resource needs to the
                      organization’s on-going budget and program goals. While a few agencies
                      in USDA  have begun to develop workforce-planning systems, they vary
                      greatly in comprehensiveness and often address only one year’s needs.
                      Department-wide standards for workforce planning and a formal system
                      for evaluating and monitoring individual agency systems would serve to
                      guide agencies toward developing consistent and effective internal
                      workforce management systems. Such standards would also provide a
                      Department-wide view of workforce skills for use in planning and imple-
                      menting cross-cutting programs and assist in increasing USDA'S market-
  /                   ing orientation. Finally, standards would provide a vehicle for
  I                   continuing implementation of the Department’s policy to obtain diver-
  /                   sity in the workforce.

                      To assist agencies in building a quality workforce to meet current and
Recommendations       future challenges, we recommend that the Secretary of Agriculture

                  . make workforce planning a mandatory agency activity;
                  l develop workforce planning guidelines to, at a minimum, include the ele-
                    ments described in this letter to ensure that agency-level plans are well
                    developed and provide consistent and uniform agency-wide data; and
                  l identify resources within OP to develop a workforce-planning framework
                    and to carry out monitoring activities.

                      Page 8                      GAO/RCED-90-97   Need for Improved   Workforce   Planning
We conducted our work between September and December, 1989 in
accordance with generally accepted government auditing standards.
Copies of this report are being sent to the Director, Office of Manage-
ment and Budget; interested congressional committees and subcommit-
tees; and other interested parties. Please contact me at (202)275-6138 if
you or your staff have any questions about this report. Major contribu-
tors are listed in appendix I.

Sincerely yours,

John W. Harman
Director, Food and Agriculture Issues

Page 9                       GAO/RCEDBOI’I   Need for Improved   Workforce   Planning

2Gzr Contributors to This Report

                        Gary R. Boss, Project Director
Community, and          Mary E. Roy, Evaluator
Debelopment Division,
W$shington, D.C.

                        Page 10                          GAO/RCEDM-97   Need for Improved   Workforce   Planning
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