GAO: Workforce Planning Across Government Isn’t Going as Planned

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A review showed most federal agencies are implementing parts of GAO’s workforce planning framework while others are ignored due to competing priorities and leadership turnover.

Federal agencies have made progress identifying critical gaps in IT and cybersecurity skills among the workforce but have yet to uniformly create plans to address these issues or follow up over time, according to a report from the Government Accountability Office.

Hiring the right people—and enough of them—to handle technically and highly skilled roles like IT management and cybersecurity have proven extremely difficult for the federal government. The result is an age and skills gap that is already causing problems across the public sector.

While Congress passes laws, the administration issues policy and departments develop guidance, the identified actions that need to be taken to fill the workforce gaps are not being implemented widely or consistently, GAO auditors wrote.

Since 2016, GAO has used an evaluation framework that divides the problem into four planning steps, each with two activities that support bolstering the workforce in needed areas like IT and cybersecurity. The eight activities include a focus on identifying workforce skills gaps, developing plans to fill those gaps and continually reassessing those plans, and the overall status of the workforce.

While all 24 CFO Act agencies had at least partially developed competency and staffing requirements and 23 had at least partially assessed gaps in competency and staffing and were reassessing regularly, the remaining five areas suffered from a serious lack of attention from agencies. Most of the other activities saw fewer than four agencies reach the “partially implemented” level.

That progress began to wane when it comes to developing and implementing plans to fill those gaps.

The last two areas on the list—monitor the agency’s progress in addressing gaps and report to agency leadership on progress in addressing gaps—were only partially implemented at three agencies. No agencies had substantially or fully implemented those actions.

“Some agencies had made more progress than others,” auditors wrote. “Specifically, while five agencies—Defense, Department of State, [Veterans Affairs], Small Business Administration and [the Social Security Administration]—fully implemented or substantially implemented three or more activities, 11 agencies did not fully implement any of the activities, and 15 agencies did not implement three or more activities.”

The Environmental Protection Agency came in dead last, having only partially implemented one activity, minimally implemented three and yet to begin work on the remaining four.

“Agencies provided various reasons for their limited progress in implementing workforce planning activities, including competing priorities—six agencies—and limited resources—three agencies,” GAO auditors wrote in the report.

Officials from the Office of Personnel Management and the Interior Department also cited leadership turnover as a factor.

“Until agencies make it a priority to fully implement all key IT workforce planning activities, they will likely have difficulty anticipating and responding to changing staffing needs and controlling human capital risks when developing, implementing, and operating critical IT systems,” the report states.

The eight activities, divided into four buckets:

Set the strategic direction for IT workforce planning.

  • Establish and maintain a workforce planning process.
  • Develop competency and staffing requirements.

Analyze the IT workforce to identify skill gaps.

  • Assess competency and staffing needs regularly.
  • Assess gaps in competencies and staffing.

Develop strategies and implement activities to address IT skill gaps.

  • Develop strategies and plans to address gaps in competencies and staffing.
  • Implement activities that address gaps.

Monitor and report progress in addressing IT skill gaps.

  • Monitor the agency’s progress in addressing gaps.
  • Report to agency leadership on progress in addressing gaps.