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Improving the Recruitment, Retention, and Utilization of Federal Scientists and Engineers: A Report to the Carnegie Commision on Science, Technology and Government 5 Next Steps and Recommendations This report has documented the problems of recruiting and retaining highly qualified scientists and engineers in competition with the private sector (Chapter 2), the history of special mechanisms employed by the federal government to put itself in a better competitive position (Chapter 3), and the lessons of a series of personnel demonstration projects employing experimental policies and procedures for attracting and keeping skilled technical personnel (Chapter 3). The report also analyzes the potential impact of the Federal Employees Pay Comparability Act of 1990 (FEPCA) in increasing the federal government's flexibility to respond to changing labor market conditions for scientists and engineers and other specialists (Chapter 4). This chapter presents the committee's conclusions and recommendations for responding to the policy issues concerning scientific and technical personnel identified in Chapter 1. To a large extent, these involve exploiting FEPCA's array of new authorities and mechanisms that could help the federal government recruit, retain, and motivate the qualified scientific and engineering personnel it needs. There are some additional steps beyond FEPCA that should be taken to improve federal personnel administration as it affects scientists and engineers. Some could be accomplished under the authority of FEPCA itself, such as the establishment of a special occupational pay system for senior scientists and engineers who deserve high-level positions for their research accomplishments but who are not managers or executives and therefore do not qualify for promotion to the Senior Executive Service (SES). Others, such as making the position classification system more flexible, which would permit pay banding, would require new legislation.
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Improving the Recruitment, Retention, and Utilization of Federal Scientists and Engineers: A Report to the Carnegie Commision on Science, Technology and Government Effective use of these new and proposed policies and mechanisms for flexibility also requires a new organizational structure and data system that will enable the system to react effectively to positive and negative changes in the recruitment and retention environment. Currently the government is in a favorable employment position, even concerning recruitment and retention of relatively scarce specialists in science and technology (S&T) fields, but this condition is temporary. The federal personnel system must be prepared for changes—whether favorable or unfavorable—in the supply and demand for the highly skilled scientists, engineers, and other experts the government needs. A structure must be in place to monitor the recruitment and retention situation and to make adjustments in the face of changing labor market and other conditions affecting the employment of scientists and engineers. Accordingly, we make recommendations concerning the collection of data, ongoing monitoring, and periodic assessment of science and engineering recruitment and retention, and for interagency adjustments to changing conditions. RECOMMENDATIONS Implemented appropriately, the new pay comparability act will help federal agencies to manage more effectively the recruitment and retention of scientists, engineers, and other experts needed by the government to conduct its S&T enterprise. It could go a long way toward making the federal government more competitive where it needs to be by increasing the flexibility of agencies to pay more in higher-pay areas and higher-pay occupations and to better performers. The committee believes, however, that effective implementation of the law will require careful monitoring and encouragement, and makes the following recommendations for ensuring that the federal government and its departments and agencies are more effective in managing recruitment and retention of scientists and engineers. Recommendation 1. The pay reform provisions and related flexibilities provided by the Federal Employees
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Improving the Recruitment, Retention, and Utilization of Federal Scientists and Engineers: A Report to the Carnegie Commision on Science, Technology and Government Pay Comparability Act of 1990 (FEPCA) should be implemented as fully as possible by the President and the departments and agencies, in order to redress pay inequities and reward superior performance among all federal employees, including scientists and engineers. Full implementation of FEPCA's procedures for achieving pay comparability between federal and nonfederal pay levels at the local level would go far toward making the government competitive in attracting, retaining, and motivating the scientific and technological talent it needs to carry out vital policies and programs. Given the severe pressures on the federal budget, however, implementation of pay comparability is by no means assured. The President's authority to reduce the annual salary adjustment or locality-based comparability payments is somewhat limited during the first several years. Although the legislative language governing exceptions to pay increases is more restrictive than that in the 1970 pay comparability act, which presidents used to justify less-than-comparable pay increases from 1978 through 1989, it permits reductions under certain conditions. We believe, however, that presidents should invoke their authority to reduce pay increases only under the direst circumstances of economic distress or national emergency contemplated in the law. The long-term costs of noncompetitive federal salaries can outweigh the short-term savings in terms of the government's ability to carry out its national S&T functions. Who Should Be Responsible for Personnel Policy for Federal Scientists and Engineers? The dramatic changes associated with the enactment of FEPCA require a revamping of the organizational structure for federal personnel policy if its full potential is to be realized. Effective implementation of FEPCA and management of the federal personnel system for scientists and engineers puts increased responsibilities on the agencies and departments, which is where they belong. The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) should increase its capacity to assist the agencies in managing the more decentralized personnel system implied by FEPCA,
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Improving the Recruitment, Retention, and Utilization of Federal Scientists and Engineers: A Report to the Carnegie Commision on Science, Technology and Government and a stronger mechanism for interagency coordination should be created at the level of the Executive Office of the President. OPM Responsibilities OPM should continue to decentralize personnel administration by delegating operational authority to the departments and agencies, but it cannot delegate the overall responsibility for seeing that the purposes of FEPCA are achieved. At the same time, most of the work of carrying out the intentions of FEPCA will be responsibility of the agencies. The S&T activities of the federal government are very diverse, and the issues and problems affecting federal scientists and engineers vary accordingly and are often best handled at the program level. If the line program managers and departmental personnel officers do not work together in a constructive fashion, the full potential of FEPCA will not be realized. Recommendation 2. OPM should follow its aggressive effort to delegate its authorities under FEPCA with an equally strong effort to see that FEPCA authorities and flexibilities are decentralized to the appropriate levels within the departments and agencies. This especially involves the line program managers and supervisors who are ultimately responsible for carrying out the agency's missions under widely varying circumstances. OPM also should expand its capacity to assist the departments and agencies, for example in workforce planning and personnel system design, so they make better use of the flexibilities of FEPCA to meet their strategic needs. At our 1990 workshop with federal officials, the committee heard, on the one hand, from agency S&T program managers and laboratory directors about rigidities and restrictions in the civil service system that hampered their ability to recruit and retain the science and engineering talent they needed and, on the other hand, from OPM officials that various flexibilities to deal with those problems had already been delegated to their agencies. The problem, it appears, is the centralization of personnel authority within the agencies. At our 1991 meeting, we
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Improving the Recruitment, Retention, and Utilization of Federal Scientists and Engineers: A Report to the Carnegie Commision on Science, Technology and Government heard, for example, from the assistant secretary of defense for force management and personnel about the multiple layers within the defense establishment through which personnel authorities must be delegated. With each layer reserving some discretion for itself, little may end up reaching the federal laboratory directors and managers who need it. Recommendation 3. To help carry out its responsibilities for encouraging, assisting, and overseeing the departments and agencies, OPM should develop an organizational focus for science and engineering personnel policy staffed by individuals who have had experience as senior managers of scientists and engineers. A specific organizational locus for science and engineering personnel policy within OPM would provide an ongoing, governmentwide S&T perspective on personnel policy and program development. It could provide a focal point for communication with career scientists and engineers throughout the government, particularly those in the Senior Research and Development Service (Recommendation 9). The staff should be highly experienced science and engineering managers who support the director of OPM as chair of the Committee on Federal Science and Engineering Personnel of the Federal Coordinating Council for Science, Engineering, and Technology (FCCSET) recommended below (Recommendation 5). Department and Agency Responsibilities Recommendation 4. Each federal agency with a science and engineering workforce should develop a comprehensive action plan, with assistance from OPM, to (1) identify agency goals and develop an appropriate science and engineering staffing plan, and (2) use the authorities provided under FEPCA to improve recruitment, retention, and utilization of scientists and engineers.
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Improving the Recruitment, Retention, and Utilization of Federal Scientists and Engineers: A Report to the Carnegie Commision on Science, Technology and Government FEPCA authorizes a number of discrete flexibilities that federal agencies could use to tailor the Title 5 civil service system to their specific needs. This means that the first step in implementing FEPCA is for officials and managers in the personnel offices of each agency to meet with line program and laboratory managers to develop a plan to meet that agency's needs. Such a plan should identify agency goals, match them with scientific and engineering personnel needs, and outline an appropriate strategy for combining the relevant flexibilities in FEPCA to achieve the number, type, and quality of science and engineering personnel needed. The agencies should be prepared to provide the organizational resources to carry them out. FEPCA has the potential of being more than an incremental improvement in the traditional civil service system. It could be used to adapt the civil service system to each agency, within broad parameters that ensure the merit principle. This will require a dialogue between those in the agency responsible for planning and managing substantive programs and those managing the personnel system. Otherwise, FEPCA's flexibilities will be adopted piecemeal and incrementally, and its full advantages will not be realized. Model plans for relating agency goals to agency personnel needs and for using the flexibilities of FEPCA to achieve these goals could be developed in the FCCSET committee proposed in the next recommendation. Interagency Coordination Recommendation 5. A new interagency committee on federal scientific and engineering personnel should be established in the Executive Office of the President under FCCSET to (1) evaluate and recommend science and engineering personnel policies and their implementation; (2) develop model strategies for combining the relevant flexibilities in FEPCA and for science and engineering personnel program evaluation; (3) share successful and unsuccessful experiences; (4) monitor the overall success of the government in recruiting and retaining scientists
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Improving the Recruitment, Retention, and Utilization of Federal Scientists and Engineers: A Report to the Carnegie Commision on Science, Technology and Government and engineers across agencies; and (5) provide a forum for identifying and working out solutions to common problems. FCCSET is chaired by the director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy in the Executive Office of the President, who is also the President's science advisor. FCCSET members are the department and agency heads or chief technical officials from departments and agencies involved with technical issues. The major purpose of FCCSET is to develop more effective S&T policies that involve multiple federal agencies. The council works through interagency working groups or committees like the one recommended here, and its reports go through the regular budget process, although the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) gives special consideration to interagency policies and programs developed under FCCSET auspices. One major activity of the FCCSET Committee on Federal Science and Engineering Personnel would be annual reports to the President and Congress describing the status and approaches of the agency action plans for implementing FEPCA and related laws recommended above (Recommendation 4) and the overall progress in carrying out those plans (the OPM organizational unit focusing on science and engineering personnel policy should review and critique the individual agency plans). The director or a representative of OPM should chair the FCCSET committee, and OPM should report on its efforts to monitor implementation and to assist agencies in carrying out FEPCA's provisions. The committee could be supported by a dedicated professional staff located in OPM or OSTP. The FCCSET committee should find ways to obtain the views and advice of federal laboratory directors to ensure direct contact with R&D personnel. A new FCCSET Committee on Federal Science and Engineering Personnel would not be a panacea; there are limits on the interagency coordination committee approach. Heretofore, for example, FCCSET committees have focused on substantive topics, such as high-performance computing and global warming research, rather than administrative issues. We believe, however, that the quality and performance of the federal science and engineering workforce is critical to the success of the
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Improving the Recruitment, Retention, and Utilization of Federal Scientists and Engineers: A Report to the Carnegie Commision on Science, Technology and Government government's programs. It merits high-level attention by a forum of S&T agencies and representatives of the President's staff agencies for science and technology, personnel, management and budget. The new FCCSET committee, convened by the President's science advisor, chaired by the OPM director, and attended by OMB as well as agency representatives, would provide a broader perspective and additional incentives for the agencies to implement FEPCA more effectively and to formulate additional reforms. Congress Recommendation 6. Congress and the executive branch should work together to make further changes in the civil service system that address the problems beyond pay flexibility per se. Meanwhile, Congress and OPM should continue the personnel demonstrations as testbeds for policies and practices that are not necessarily permitted under FEPCA or other federal personnel laws. FEPCA does not make desirable changes in other aspects of personnel policies that also affect the recruitment, retention, and motivation of scientists and engineers, for example, simplifying the position classification system to permit more flexible pay banding, making performance appraisal more suitable and effective for research scientists and engineers, and linking pay more closely with performance. OPM, with the advice of the FCCSET interagency committee on federal scientists and engineers, should formulate and propose legislative measures that would address these gaps. Also, Congress, through its oversight activities, should monitor the performance of OPM and the departments and agencies in carrying out FEPCA and subsequent legislation in terms of adequate recruitment, retention, and utilization of scientists and engineers. Finally, the agencies should make use of the personnel management demonstration authority to try out mechanisms or sets of mechanisms that promise to make scientists, engineers, and other federal personnel more productive and effective.
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Improving the Recruitment, Retention, and Utilization of Federal Scientists and Engineers: A Report to the Carnegie Commision on Science, Technology and Government How Should the Effectiveness of the System Be Evaluated? The goals of the personnel system are derived from the nature of the federal mission. The ultimate objective is to assure that it is able to attract, train, and retain a workforce of scientists and engineers that is adequate in both quantity and quality to effectively carry out the federal S&T mission. Evaluation Recommendation 7. The President's science advisor, working with the director of OPM, the FCCSET Committee on Federal Science and Engineering Personnel, and OMB statistical staff, should develop better methodologies, data, and criteria for evaluating the effectiveness of the science and engineering personnel system. In theory, the most appropriate way to evaluate the science and engineering personnel system would be to compare the characteristics of the existing workforce with those necessary for the effective accomplishment of the federal role in S&T. A perfect match would imply a highly effective system. A less-than-perfect match would suggest that actions are needed to reduce the imbalance. In practice the methodologies, data, criteria, and assumptions for achieving a proper match need to be developed in a concerted, long-term effort involving OPM and the departments and agencies. Ideally, the system would contain mechanisms that would permit such actions to be taken—e.g., special allowances to recruit scarce but uniquely defined pools of talent; bonuses to retain highly valued staff; and training programs to accommodate changing needs arising from shifting federal priorities.
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Improving the Recruitment, Retention, and Utilization of Federal Scientists and Engineers: A Report to the Carnegie Commision on Science, Technology and Government Responsibilities As noted earlier, existing data bases are not capable of providing the information necessary to effectively monitor and evaluate science and engineering personnel changes in the system. There are wide differences in estimates of the amount of turnover occurring, depending on which data base is examined. There is little information on the characteristics of the federal science and engineering workforce. There is little agreement on what would be appropriate indicators of the quality and performance of this workforce. Systematic indicators of compensation are difficult to compile because of the complexity of the federal pay system and the barriers involved in coordinating across agencies. Recommendation 8. OPM should assume the lead in developing a data base that can be analyzed to monitor the performance of the federal science and engineering personnel system. This development activity should also involve the federal agencies with expertise and experience in large-scale data collection efforts to describe the science and engineering human resource base (e.g., the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Division of Science Resources Studies at the National Science Foundation, the Bureau of the Census). Given that the federal agencies will play a central role in providing much of the needed information, the activity should be coordinated through the proposed FCCSET Committee on Federal Science and Engineering Personnel. In addition, the Central Personnel Data File (CPDF) should be used more aggressively to monitor recruitment, retention, and quality conditions and to identify problems by occupation, agency, and locality. Finally, each agency should collect and analyze data pertinent to its unique science and engineering workforce situation and management issues and provide it to OPM. OPM collects standard data on all federal employees, including scientists and engineers (described in Falk, 1991). For example, data
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Improving the Recruitment, Retention, and Utilization of Federal Scientists and Engineers: A Report to the Carnegie Commision on Science, Technology and Government elements in the CPDF include information on sex, race, age, highest degree obtained, scientific field of highest degree, occupational area, federal agency employer, years of service, etc. The set of standard data elements should be carefully reviewed by the FCCSET committee and revised to ensure that they meet governmentwide management needs. Special Provisions for Administering the Science and Engineering Workforce A Senior Research and Development Service Recommendation 9. A Senior Research and Development Service should be established with a separate pay system, an appropriate performance review and promotion process, and other features conducive to maintaining a high-performance workforce for senior science and engineering positions directly involved in intellectually significant work in research and development and other activities requiring a high level of technical training and expertise. At least 40 percent of the members of the SES have science or engineering credentials. Some still would be highly productive researchers if they had not entered the SES to advance in rank and pay beyond the GS-15 level. Others remain actively involved in research and technical activity, although the SES is intended for managers.1 Creation of a Senior R&D Service that would be parallel and equal to the SES—and that would include exemplary scientists and engineers who have achieved professional distinction—would be more appropriate for such high-level technical personnel and would contribute to more effective federal activities in these areas. 1 Those promoted to ST positions (now Senior-Level positions) are not eligible for the bonuses and rank awards that SES members are. Others leave federal employment after reaching the GS-15 level.
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Improving the Recruitment, Retention, and Utilization of Federal Scientists and Engineers: A Report to the Carnegie Commision on Science, Technology and Government Senior scientists and engineers engaged in such work constitute a distinct occupational group in terms of personnel administration. This has long been recognized in the private sector, where industrial R&D groups are usually subject to different policies, procedures, and organizational arrangements than the rest of the workforce in an effort to attract and keep top scientific and engineering talent and to promote creativity and innovation. Pay problems could be resolved in many individual cases without establishing a Senior R&D Service by using the bonuses, allowances, and critical position authorities of FEPCA. In addition to accommodating the higher pay that may be needed to recruit and keep certain scientific, engineering, medical, and other critically needed researchers in the federal service, however, a special occupational pay system for senior R&D personnel would enable the federal government to use more appropriate performance review, merit pay, and promotion systems (described in the next recommendation). It would also enable the government to promote highly productive researchers without forcing them to leave their laboratories for management positions, as is required for entry into the current SES. A Senior R&D Service would provide a dual-career track more appropriate for senior scientists and engineers who are more productive in the laboratory than in administration. Thus the Senior R&D Service would need to be separate from but parallel and equal to the SES. Scientists and engineers in the executive management hierarchy would be in the SES, while those involved in research and technology management would be in the Senior R&D Service. This would mirror similar organizational arrangements in the private sector and in academia. The line between research and technology management—e.g., heading a large research team—and management responsibilities beyond research and technology per se that are more appropriate for SES members may be difficult to define precisely in the abstract. Senior scientists and engineers who enthusiastically take on team leadership roles should not be perceived as having changed their career objectives toward the managerial track. The Senior R&D Service should have the same rank-in-person features as the SES, which would facilitate interagency assignments of top research managers. This is especially useful during this time of
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Improving the Recruitment, Retention, and Utilization of Federal Scientists and Engineers: A Report to the Carnegie Commision on Science, Technology and Government rapidly changing federal activities and responsibilities in the S&T area. The committee recognizes the need for diversity in the planning and implementation of career paths for federally employed scientists and engineers. There will be times when it may be appropriate to assign individuals who are members of the Senior R&D Service to managerial positions. The committee suggest, therefore, that there be enough flexibility built in the system to permit short-term and permanent transfers between the Senior R&D Service and the SES. The distinctive personnel system requirements of researchers have already been recognized by the creation of a Senior Biomedical Research Service (SBRS) in the Public Health Service, which is exempt from Title 5 provisions for pay rates, position classification, performance appraisal, retention preference, and adverse actions. FEPCA authorized the SBRS—with a pay band ranging from the GS-15 level to executive level I—and also authorized the establishment of additional special pay systems for occupations not well suited to Title 5 (see Chapter 4). There are a number of other laboratories in various agencies and departments that might benefit from a special occupational pay system. Rather than establish such pay systems piecemeal, which would fragment the federal service and possibly create interagency competition for top people, we believe that it would be preferable to create a single, governmentwide senior service for scientists and engineers engaged in R&D work or similar high-level work. Such a Senior R&D Service is a reasonable compromise between a monolithic personnel system covering every occupation and a decentralized system in which each agency has its own personnel system meeting its particular requirements. A problematic aspect of Recommendation 9 is how to design the service so that it includes only those exemplary scientists and engineers who have achieved professional distinction. The danger is that the concept could be undermined by ingenious supervisors to reward their staffs, regardless of the amount of professional distinction they may have actually achieved. To minimize this danger, clear guidelines on eligibility would be necessary. The development of such guidelines could be one of the initial tasks of the proposed FCCSET interagency committee on federal scientific and engineering talent. Creating a Senior R&D Service comparable in status and parallel in pay provisions would require new legislation. The beginning of such
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Improving the Recruitment, Retention, and Utilization of Federal Scientists and Engineers: A Report to the Carnegie Commision on Science, Technology and Government a service need not wait for the passage of new legislation, however, because FEPCA provides authority to create a special occupational pay system for occupations that do not fit well under Title 5. Under FEPCA, the same waivers of Title 5 laws, rules, and regulations that are now used in the personnel management demonstrations at China Lake and the National Institute of Standards and Technology could be used in beginning a governmentwide Senior R&D Service. Top pay would be capped at a lower level than that for the SES (level V rather than level IV of the Executive Schedule), and the merit pay features of the SES could not be used. New legislation would also clarify the status of the SBRS and of the Senior-Level positions also established under FEPCA. As another temporary measure, the use of Senior-Level positions in government R&D activities could be expanded. This approach offers a way to promote senior science and engineering personnel without forcing them into management positions—e.g., it would amount to a dual-track system. Use of Senior-Level positions also help avoid the rigidities of the position classification system, because it consists of a single pay band ranging from 120 percent of the GS-15 rate to the rate for level IV of the Executive Schedule. Thus pay increases may be more flexibly linked to performance rather than just to longevity. But Senior-Level scientists and engineers would not be eligible for the merit pay provisions that should be a key part of the Senior R&D Service program (and that are currently available to SES executives). OPM could immediately begin the process of creating the Senior R&D Service by working actively with agencies to begin to analyze their needs, create positions, identify candidates, and appoint them. These positions and their incumbents could then be included in the Senior R&D Service when it is created. Peer Input for Science and Engineering Personnel Decisions Recommendation 10. Compensation and promotion of scientists and engineers should be based in part on evaluation of their job performance by their peers. Governmentwide evaluation programs should be devised drawing on the experience of universities and industry.
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Improving the Recruitment, Retention, and Utilization of Federal Scientists and Engineers: A Report to the Carnegie Commision on Science, Technology and Government Research personnel in the federal government—working in the laboratories at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and the Department of Defense (DOD), for example—function more like faculty members in universities and researchers in industrial laboratories than the mainstream of federal employees. Although the academic model is not fully applicable to federal government work, especially for scientists and engineers working at the more applied and development end of R&D activities, its reliance on peer review may be usefully adapted, as it has been in many industrial laboratories. In the more hierarchical environment of government and industry, supervisors make pay and promotion decisions, but those decisions would be improved if there were better input from peers. The procedures used in the academic community for rewarding scientific performance and contribution to the institution may not be directly applicable to federal laboratories because of differences in the nature of the work and in measuring contributions to the institution (e.g., with internal rather than external criteria). However, systems should be explored to realize the principle of relating pay and professional advancement to scientific merit and organizational contribution on an agency and interagency basis aimed at achieving this objective. At least two federal research agencies, NIH and the National Institute of Standards and Technology, already use advisory input from visiting committees of outside experts on individual promotion decisions, as well as on the group performance of an entire research group or laboratory in carrying out organizational goals with imagination and creativity. Now that FEPCA provides an arsenal of ways to recognize and reward high performance, we believe that mechanisms for incorporating peer reviews of individual and group performance should be developed and used more widely. More Flexible Position Classification Recommendation 11. OPM should develop legislation to create a simplified position classification system in federal research and development agencies both for the Senior Research and Development Service and for those now at
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Improving the Recruitment, Retention, and Utilization of Federal Scientists and Engineers: A Report to the Carnegie Commision on Science, Technology and Government the regular GS levels (GS-9/11 through 15), with grade levels comparable with those of counterparts in industry and academia. This flexibility could be combined with pay pools and longer evaluation periods to more closely link performance and pay. The current GS grade classification and steps within those grades, even with a flexible pay schedule provided by FEPCA, tends to create a rigid system—one in which GS rates are adjusted each year in January and most employees receive automatic raises and within-grade increases based on length of service. With input from the R&D agencies, OPM should develop a simplified position classification system that would permit use of pay banding, one the most successful mechanisms used in the personnel demonstrations. The President and Congress should then agree on legislation that would establish such a simplified classification system for R&D agencies, with levels comparable to research appointments in industrial laboratories and academic ranks for college and university faculty. A National Academy of Public Administration committee recently studied this issue for OPM and recommended the establishing 10 occupational families in place of the 441 current occupations, each with three classification levels of the 15 grades currently existing, each with 10 pay steps (NAPA, 1991). The use of pay banding in conjunction with reform of the classification system would provide an opportunity for much greater pay growth for the valued employee, and it increases the range of salaries available to potential new hires. The linkage between pay and performance would be strengthened further if the funds for within-grade increases, quality step increases, and other pay supplements and awards were pooled and used to reward high performers. While no one's pay would be cut, failure to receive a performance increase would be a signal that one's performance needs improvement. At the same time, given the long-term nature of most R&D work, it would be beneficial to make the evaluation intervals longer. This would give the scientists and engineers employed in R&D a more appropriate period of time in which to show results.
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Improving the Recruitment, Retention, and Utilization of Federal Scientists and Engineers: A Report to the Carnegie Commision on Science, Technology and Government Quadrennial Review of the Science and Engineering Personnel System Recommendation 12. The director of OPM should have a quadrennial review of the science and engineering personnel system undertaken by a reputable nongovernmental organization to assess the performance of the system in light of current and expected future needs and conditions and to recommend improvements. FEPCA will go a long way toward introducing flexibility into the system so that it will be better able to accommodate changes in federal priorities and shifts in the competitive position of the federal government with respect to recruitment and retention. However, one of the eternal verities of federal personnel policy is that it has been saddled with a considerable amount of inertia. Thus, it has been slow in its response to change. The committee believes, therefore, that it would be prudent to undertake periodically a comprehensive assessment of how well the system is performing and especially how the new personnel management authorities of FEPCA are being used. Such an assessment would examine the adequacy of the various mechanisms aimed at meeting federal needs for scientists and engineers in areas such as compensation, career development, performance evaluation, and position classification. Based on this examination, recommendations for structural changes would be made, where appropriate. The committee notes that such a periodic review has been undertaken quadrennially over the past 30 years by DOD. The DOD review focuses on military compensation. The review proposed in this report is intended to be broader, involving both pay and nonpay mechanisms and covering all facets of recruitment, retention, and utilization.2 2 The quadrennial commission device has also been used since the 1960s to assess the adequacy of compensation for executive-level federal officials,
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Improving the Recruitment, Retention, and Utilization of Federal Scientists and Engineers: A Report to the Carnegie Commision on Science, Technology and Government The report should be addressed to Congress, the President's science advisor, OMB, and, via the director of OPM, the FCCSET Committee on Federal Science and Engineering Personnel for consideration. Issues Beyond FEPCA Adequate pay is a necessary but not a sufficient condition by itself for ensuring a well-qualified science and engineering workforce. Scientists and engineers are motivated to enter and stay in federal service by a number of nonpay factors, such as the opportunity to identify and develop the solutions to important national problems, the satisfaction of conducting scientifically important research and managing large-scale engineering projects, the quality of the facilities and equipment in federal laboratories, and the opportunity to engage in long-term projects. They also value the opportunity for further training and education and to engage in professional recognition and advancement. These are issues addressed in this section that go beyond FEPCA. Adequately Equipped and Staffed Laboratories Recommendation 13. In order to attract and retain talented scientists and engineers, and increase their productivity, the federal laboratories must have adequate technical and support personnel and up-to-date equipment and facilities comparable with those available to their professional peers in other research settings. In a time of budget restraint and federal downsizing, it is important to recognize that a laboratory with too many professionals (scientists and congressmen and senators, and judges. These commissions have had the authority to take a broader look at overall personnel management but rarely have gone beyond making salary-level recommendations.
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Improving the Recruitment, Retention, and Utilization of Federal Scientists and Engineers: A Report to the Carnegie Commision on Science, Technology and Government engineers) and not enough technical and support personnel can be neither efficient nor productive and that a certain critical mass of the right kind of personnel is necessary in order to function. The latest equipment is of limited value in the absence of trained technicians and other support personnel to operate that equipment and to carry out experiments. Lack of supplies and small scientific instruments delayed by having to go through departmental procedures designed for large-scale purchasing may unduly hamper R&D progress. Departments and agencies with R&D programs should review their policies and procedures for obtaining equipment and supplies to ensure that they are adequately flexible and timely for researchers. Federal budgets are shrinking and fiscal accountability is becoming more stringent. One way to cope and to continue to be scientifically productive is to allow greater flexibility and local autonomy in distribution of funds. Specifically, the policy of ''matching personnel to budget'' rather than absolute personnel ceilings or specific numbers of personnel in certain job categories would allow the laboratory manager to hire the appropriate combination of professional, technical, and support personnel for that particular laboratory. Chronic hiring freezes and/or promotion freezes for certain civil service grade levels are demoralizing for both managers and current staff and negatively impact productivity and planning strategies. Many research programs are impeded by restrictions such as the requirement to spend money allocated for a specific fiscal year only in that fiscal year. Two-year budgeting would allow the flexibility that is required by the ever-changing nature inherent in research programs. The agencies and OMB should strive to strike a balance in the staffing and equipping of federal research laboratories. Professional Development Recommendation 14. OPM should develop and implement professional development policies and programs that meet the needs of federal scientists and engineers, including continuing professional training and education; retraining for occupational changes; support of participation in professional associations; and support of academic
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Improving the Recruitment, Retention, and Utilization of Federal Scientists and Engineers: A Report to the Carnegie Commision on Science, Technology and Government degree training for employees in hard-to-fill occupations. The departments and agencies should make active use of these authorities to encourage career development among their science and technology professionals. OPM has begun to take a more systematic career-path approach to employee development policies and programs. We endorse this approach in the federal service, because continuing education, training, retraining, and participation in professional activities are especially integral to the career development of scientists, engineers, and other professionals. OPM should set standards for continuing professional development of critical occupational groups and ensure that they are met by the agencies. OPM also should assist the agencies in identifying and meeting needs for retraining where there are major occupational shifts. Currently, for example, nuclear engineers in the Department of Energy are facing a major cutback in weapons production at the same time the department is sharply increasing its environmental cleanup efforts. Federal departments and agencies also should strongly encourage memberships and participation in the activities of professional societies, because participation in such organizations is an important part of the career development of practicing scientists and engineers. The agencies should provide travel support for such activities from their research budgets rather than from administrative travel, because professional development of the government's scientists and engineers is integrally related to agency goals. Finally, the departments and agencies should make active use of new authority contained in the Defense Authorization Act of 1990 that permits all federal agencies to pay tuition leading to higher academic degrees for employees with critical job skills that the government needs to recruit or retain. According to recent OPM guidelines, the government not only can help scientists and engineers obtain a degree that would qualify them for otherwise hard-to-fill positions, it can also pay tuition for employees if it contributes to their performance in their current position. Since continuing education was already a major incentive cited by scientists and engineers for entering and staying in the public service, the new authority to pay expenses leading to a higher degree, not just for specific courses substantively related to the employ-
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Improving the Recruitment, Retention, and Utilization of Federal Scientists and Engineers: A Report to the Carnegie Commision on Science, Technology and Government ee's current work, will make the federal government a more attractive employer. Fairer Ethics Rules Recommendation 15. In updating the code of ethical conduct for federal employees, the Office of Government Ethics (OGE) should take special care not to unnecessarily restrict appropriate involvement of federal scientists and engineers and other professionals in professional associations. OGE should continue to let federal employees be as involved in science and engineering societies as their agencies deem is helpful to their missions. The attractiveness of federal employment to science and engineering professionals is influenced by more than federal personnel policies per se. Scientists and engineers are especially sensitive to restrictions on professional development and recognition. Federal ethics laws and regulations are especially problematic in this regard, because federal employees are often subject to stricter rules than their private-sector colleagues. Under current OPM rules, agencies may grant paid administrative leave to employees participating in professional association activities. However, such leave, or excused absence, "generally should be limited to situations in which the activity is directly related to the agency's mission, will enhance the professional development or skills of the employee...or is officially sponsored by the head of the agency" (OGE, 1991a). Scientific societies are important to researchers, because they hold the scientific meetings and publish the scientific journals where researchers publish their results. Federal agencies often use degree of participation in professional associations as a measure of the qualifications and career attainment of employees. Scientific societies are also a forum where science and engineering researchers from all sectors—governmental, academic, industrial—meet to share results and discuss the future research agenda. Since 10 to 30
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Improving the Recruitment, Retention, and Utilization of Federal Scientists and Engineers: A Report to the Carnegie Commision on Science, Technology and Government percent of the membership of the major societies are federal employees, restrictions on their participation hamper the ability of such societies to hold conferences and publish journals, which in turn slows down scientific progress. Accordingly, many federal science and engineering agencies encourage employees to be active in scientific associations and societies. In July 1991, OGE published a draft of updated "Standards of Ethical Conduct for Employees of the Executive Branch," last issued in 1964, that would have prohibited the use of official time by federal employees who are officers of professional associations "to administer the internal affairs of any such organization or to carry out its business" (OGE, 1991b:33811). Since at least some federal agencies were permitting employees to serve as officers of scientific societies as part of their jobs, and since the line the proposed rules tried to draw between allowed and unallowed activities was unclear, this section received 980 of the 1,100 responses in all to the entire proposed code during the 60-day comment period. Eventually, OGE deleted the section from the final rule and announced plans to revise it and publish it again for further comment at a later date (OGE, 1991b). The committee urges OGE to let current practice continue, which is to (1) urge federal employees to participate actively in professional associations, (2) encourage agencies to cooperate with professional associations, and (3) permit agency heads to grant excused absences for purposes that benefit the public interest. These practices are already regulated by OPM regulations and agency rules.
Representative terms from entire chapter: