Supervisor to Nonsupervisor Ratios in the Federal Government and the Private Sector

Gao ID: FPCD-80-65 September 30, 1980

In response to a request to compare supervisor to nonsupervisor ratios between the Federal Government and private industry, GAO obtained available statistical data from the Office of Personnel Management and the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The usefulness of aggregate data such as supervisor to nonsupervisor ratios is very limited. GAO had strong reservations about the data collected and the comparability of functions between the Federal Government and the private sector. There are many legitimate factors which determine what an appropriate level of supervision should be for an organization or function. Comparing aggregate ratios such as supervisor to nonsupervisor ratios serves only to identify what needs to be looked at in more detail.

GAO found that the attention given to workforce planning by Federal agencies continues to be extremely limited, and that efforts to develop and use it regularly face obstacles that weaken or nullify their use for effective manpower management. These factors are not insurmountable, and more effective workforce planning should be aggressively pursued to more accurately determine the proper size, composition, and appropriate placement of the workforce. Federal managers must have incentives to take effective workforce planning seriously, and the disincentives to effective planning must be removed. The imposition of personnel ceilings has been one of the principal disincentives. Such use of tends to severely limit the managers' flexibility to use the most cost-effective mix of people to accomplish the work needed. It also encourages managers to use consultants to do work that should be done in house, and to obtain higher-graded professionals to do work that could be done by lower-graded personnel. In five agencies, the Office of Management and Budget has tested the substitution of work-year controls for yearend personnel ceilings. Beginning in 1982, the entire executive branch will be shifted to a system of work-year controls. Some agencies have streamlined their field structure by consolidating and colocating field offices, centralizing administrative support services for field offices, and eliminating unnecessary management levels.

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