Management Reform

Agencies' Initial Efforts to Restructure Personnel Operations Gao ID: GGD-98-93 July 13, 1998

Resource reductions and changing missions, along with the replacement of aging human resource management information systems, have spurred federal agencies to restructure their personnel offices. Congress has made it clear that it expects agencies to improve their accountability for resources, including human resources, in accomplishing their missions. In addition, the National Performance Review in 1993 recommended that agencies reduce by half the costs of administrative positions, including personnel jobs, by 1999. Between September 1993 and September 1997, the number of civilian personnelists across government fell by about 21 percent--or 8,900 employees. This report reviews four major federal departments--the Departments of Agriculture, Health and Human Services, Interior, and Veterans Affairs--and (1) describes their efforts to restructure personnel offices and operations; (2) determines what, if any, performance measures are in place to gauge the results of the restructuring efforts; and (3) identifies issues that agencies may commonly encounter when, in restructuring their personnel operations, they consider outsourcing automated personnel and payroll services to another agency or the private sector.

GAO noted that: (1) although the focus of agencies' restructuring efforts differed across the four departments, their streamlining plans included reducing the number of employees working in personnel operations and automating paper-based personnel processes to improve the responsiveness and quality of personnel-related services; (2) the reduction in the number of personnelists at the four departments ranged from 14 to 41 percent between September 1993 and September 1997; (3) even with reductions of this magnitude, the personnel servicing ratios for three departments did not change substantially; (4) the departments sought to boost the efficiency of their personnel offices by automating their largely paper-based operations; (5) to achieve this increase in efficiency, the departments generally planned to have new equipment and software in place before staff reductions were made; (6) however, that did not occur, and the departments fell behind their original milestones for implementing new personnel and payroll systems while initial personnel staff reductions occurred; (7) according to personnel officials, the four departments had few measures in place to gauge the results of their personnel operations before restructuring; (8) however, officials in all four departments recognized the need for measurement, were developing performance measures to assess future efforts, and, in some cases, were seeking to more fully assess current costs and performance to identify specific targets for improvement; (9) in addition to providing personnel services to their component agencies, the four departments were developing or purchasing automated personnel systems with the intention of selling payroll or other key personnel services to other agencies; (10) agency officials suggested that a framework was needed with which agencies could obtain information on the personnel services offered by other federal agencies, the cost of those services, and their performance characteristics, including service-level standards; (11) agency officials also suggested the need for a standard technical format and a core set of requirements for personnel data that agencies are likely to exchange with each other; and (12) since April 1997, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) has rechartered the mission of the Federal Personnel Automation Council and tasked it to develop a set of core data elements and requirements for personnel information systems.


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