The federal government faces unprecedented workforce challenges that put agency missions – including national and homeland security – at risk. When the public needs government to respond to a crisis, it is essential that government has the ongoing capability and capacity to respond to the crisis. After years of lamenting the problem and doing little to solve it, the next President must act. There truly is no time to wait.
The titles of two recent Academy Panel reports capture the most important theme: the federal government’s human capital system is broken, and there’s no time to wait in fixing it. On its “high risk list” of the government’s biggest problems, the U.S. Government Accountability Office has identified strategic human capital—and none of the other 33 areas on that list can be fixed without first fixing the government’s people systems. The federal government will not be able to serve the people unless it has the people it needs for the work to be done.
The problem will only grow as the very nature of government’s work changes. Automation, and particularly Artificial intelligence (AI), will eliminate some jobs and change the rest. Some jobs, especially those responsible for building strong relationships with stakeholders and managing across boundaries, will become even more important. The pace of change will increase and punish organizations that fail to keep up. Even now, some agencies with critical missions, like FEMA and Customs and Border Protection, can barely hire new employees fast enough to keep up with departures. The Department of Veterans Affairs reports it has tens of thousands of vacancies, many of them frontline physicians, nurses and other medical staff. Other agencies struggle with managing the technology they need to accomplish their work. In the face of growing threats, the government struggles to hire cybersecurity professionals. As more missions depend on partnerships with private contractors and state and local governments, the federal government has too often proven a weak partner because it struggles to hold up its side of the relationship.
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