Biden’s management agenda prioritises federal employee engagement

By on 24/11/2021 | Updated on 24/11/2021
The President's Management Agenda aims to increase workplace diversity, and stresses the need for a federal workforce that “looks like America”. Photo by Adam Schultz via Flickr

The Biden administration plans to prioritise increasing young talent within the federal government and give employees more powers through their unions, according to the President’s Management Agenda.

The agenda document, published last week, contains three core priorities: strengthening the federal workforce; delivering “improved customer experience”; and funding vital services in the wake of COVID-19. Unlike the management agendas put forward by previous presidents, Biden’s has been signed by departments’ deputy secretaries or chief operating officers, signalling buy-in.

“I have made it the policy of the United States to protect, empower and rebuild the career federal workforce,” president Joe Biden said.  

One major focus is to bring more people into the federal workforce earlier in their careers. As the agenda document shows, less than 7% of the federal workforce is younger than 30 years of age, while nearly 28% of federal employees are eligible to retire in the next five years. An aging workforce means US agencies risk lacking necessary human resources.

According to the document, in order to attract and retain talent, the federal government must become “a model employer, with high employee engagement, [and] a commitment to respect workers’ right to organise and bargain collectively”. In contrast to the Trump administration’s moves to curb unions’ influence, it said the current administration sees federal employees’ collective bargaining powers as a “good and productive” workplace practice.

 “A job is about a lot more than a paycheck. It’s about dignity,” Biden said.

The document said managers and supervisors should engage actively with unions.

Competing for talent in a ‘fierce’ labour market

The Office of Management and Budget’s deputy director for management, Jason Miller, said at a recent press briefing that a changing labour market also makes it necessary to reform the processes that decide whether applicants qualify for roles within the federal government.

According to the Federal Times, applying to roles currently takes candidates too long, which Miller said presents a problem where “competition for talent in the labour market is fierce”. The federal government has already started moving away from the requirement of a bachelor’s degree for certain jobs to an assessment-based model, which instead tests applicants based on knowledge or skills relevant to a position.

The agenda document said hiring processes could be improved by “empowering hiring managers to work with agency human resource professionals”. It also emphasised the goal of increasing workplace diversity, stressing the need for a federal workforce that “looks like America”.

“We need to… actively engage candidates, communities, schools, and organisations who have been historically underrepresented in the federal recruitment and advancement process,” it said.

‘Redesigning our future’ around telework

In addition to expanding and diversifying the federal government’s intake of talent, the agenda also sets out plans to embed telework into federal workforce policy. This month, the US Office of Personnel Management – which works with the national federal employee unions and manages employee benefits – published updated guidance urging agency heads to capitalise on the benefits of remote work revealed during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The federal government has an opportunity to leap forward in terms of how we conduct our work, and we will be redesigning our future together,” the agenda document stated.

“This will include developing a new vision for how we use the federal real estate footprint nationwide across agencies in response to shifts in both where federal employees work and how they work in person together, to ensure both effective mission delivery and employee health, safety, and wellbeing.”

Further detail on the agenda will be released in early 2022.

About Jack Aldane

Jack is a British journalist, cartoonist and podcaster. He graduated from Heythrop College London in 2009 with a BA in philosophy, before living and working in China for three years as a freelance reporter. After training in financial journalism at City University from 2013 to 2014, Jack worked at Bloomberg and Thomson Reuters before moving into editing magazines on global trade and development finance. Shortly after editing opinion writing for UnHerd, he joined the independent think tank ResPublica, where he led a media campaign to change the health and safety requirements around asbestos in UK public buildings. As host and producer of The Booking Club podcast – a conversation series featuring prominent authors and commentators at their favourite restaurants – Jack continues to engage today’s most distinguished thinkers on the biggest problems pertaining to ideology and power in the 21st century. He joined Global Government Forum as its Senior Staff Writer and Community Co-ordinator in 2021.

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