A report from the federal government’s top personnel manager this week says that staffing gaps across the government are harming performance and causing stress for already-overworked employees.
The Office of Personnel Management’s “Federal Workplace Priorities Report” comes days ahead of the White House’s planned budget release, which will reflect the Trump administration’s previously announced intention to shrink the federal workforce further.
The report states that “many programs cited capacity shortcomings affecting both the management and mission accomplishment of at least 20 (or 83% of) agencies.”
“Gaps in staffing levels were hampering agency performance or placing performance at risk as well as causing stress for overworked employees,” the report says. “Impacted missions and services included those related to public safety, health care, real estate, business ventures, citizen and veteran benefits, law enforcement, and Federal revenue and cost control activities.”
The report notes that while budget issues were commonly cited as the basis for staffing gaps, they were also attributed to trouble filling vacancies and to turnover.
The Office of Personnel Management found that staffing issues played a role in 38% of reports by inspectors general of management and performance challenges, as well as 59% of programs that appear on the Government Accountability Office’s 2015 high risk list, an accounting of federal programs highly vulnerable to mismanagement, fraud, waste and abuse.
Fourteen percent of reports by inspectors general regarding management challenges, and 34% of programs on GAO’s high risk list specifically referenced staffing levels.
Trump is already reshaping the federal workforce. Between January and September 2017, the federal workforce shed nearly 16,000 permanent workers, according to OPM data, down to 1.94 million.
Some of the departures have drawn more notice than others. Hundreds of employees at the Environmental Protection Agency left their posts over the course of Trump’s first year in office, according to a report by The New York Times and ProPublica.
The departures – which totaled more than 700 employees, including more than 200 scientists – included buyouts, retirements and individuals quitting. The Internal Revenue Service lost nearly 7,000 permanent staffers in the first nine months of 2017, The Washington Post reported, a decrease of nearly 9%.
The OPM report also documents problems with skills gaps across the federal government. Sixty-three percent of agencies experienced gaps in “the knowledge and skill sets of the current workforce,” including, but not limited to, acquisitions, information technology, finance and engineering.
Many of the skills gaps, the report says, had to do with deficient training and development, including “difficulties transferring knowledge to new employees, a lack of training for specialized job functions, and gaps in training curricula.” The report also says that some parts of the government faced challenges hiring new employees, as well as retaining qualified staff.
Training programs, the report says, “were often constrained due to tightening budgets.”