Workforce planning strategies to meet the federal hiring freeze

Workforce planning strategies to meet the federal hiring freeze

Posted by Wendy Freeman Carr, Ana Lapter, and Jonathan Bonniwell on March 30, 2017.

Will the hiring freeze issued on January 22, 2017, by the White House be part of a longer-term strategy to reshape the federal workforce? How will a reshaped workforce impact agencies’ abilities to support operations and mission needs?

These are some questions that many federal human capitalists are asking themselves in the wake of the recent Presidential Memorandum that placed a 90-day freeze on hiring. This freeze applies to large categories of federal civilian employees, except those related to national security, public safety, military, and other exemptions.

On January 31, 2017, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and Office of Personnel Management (OPM) issued further guidance to help agencies understand the fairly long list of authorized exemptions. Yet, many agencies still need to figure out how to authorize positions that they deem critical to their organization, but fall outside the scope of the listed exemptions. These exceptions can include cybersecurity or even “back end” functions like HR and Finance needed to support massive hiring surges similar to the efforts going on at the Department of Homeland Security to hire 15,000 new employees across Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Complicating this issue is the Presidential Memorandum calling upon the OMB and OPM to create a “long-term plan to reduce the size of the federal Government’s workforce through attrition” by April 22. While OPM and OMB are driving this plan, agencies should be proactively prepared to approach reshaping in a smart way. Below are three considerations to help federal leaders apply workforce analysis, build business cases to justify hiring exemptions in the short term, and use strategic workforce planning solutions to optimize their workforce in the long term.

1. Justify hiring exemptions using data-driven workforce analyses.

The guidance issued by OMB and OPM provides a comprehensive list of positions exempt from the hiring freeze and includes a clause on justifying additional exemptions to OPM if not listed. While the guidance gives details about what to include in the justification to the Director of OPM, agencies should consider creating a compelling, data-driven narrative to justify additional exemptions to the hiring freeze. Potential approaches include:

  • Defining mission-critical segments by function or key initiative
  • Ensuring funding exists for proposed vacancies
  • Quantifying the customer service or mission outcome impacted by the lack of appropriate staff

2. Assess the impact of attrition with workforce analytics.

Understanding the impact of historical and predictive attrition can help agencies identify the most effective organic ways to downsize the workforce in the long term. Typical ways to measure the impact of attrition focus on gathering insights and data on where to begin the reshaping effort. For example:

  • Measuring the percent of employees eligible for full or early retirement by area and pay grade
  • Calculating voluntary departure for generational workforce segments
  • Assessing attrition impact on remaining employees’ workload by time spent on activities or functional output

3. Develop a smart approach to workforce reshaping.

Agencies should consider adopting smart, tailored workforce reshaping strategies to maintain operations and employee engagement in the long term. Following are some tactics agencies could consider to help optimize and engage their workforce.

  • Examine workforce optimization programs: phased retirement, reassignments within or among agencies, shared work, Voluntary Early Retirement Authority and Voluntary Separation, incentive payments, and agency “shared” pool of resources
  • Identify the impact of these programs on bargaining and non-bargaining employees’ workload and engagement
  • Determine and develop knowledge retention plans to mitigate for loss of staff
  • Update competency models to support modernization programs
  • Expand the use of flexible hiring mechanisms (such as Fellows and Personal Service Contractors) to support modernization projects
  • Focus on the entire employee experience, bringing together all of the workplace, HR, and management practices that impact people on the job to improve employee engagement and retention

Accurate planning using workforce analytics and strategic workforce planning capabilities can help agencies design tailored strategies focused on speed, agility, and adaptability to enable them to thrive with an optimized workforce.


Wendy Freeman Carr is a director in Deloitte Consulting LLP’s Federal Human Capital practice with over 20 years of experience leading and advising large-scale transformation efforts, in the US and abroad, to design and operationalize high-performing organizations and programs using Human Capital, Change Management, and Strategic Communications principles.
Ana Lapter is a specialist master in Deloitte Consulting LLP’s Federal Human Capital Practice. She has over 15 years of experience in human capital management consulting and legal and policy analysis in the public, commercial, and nonprofit sectors.

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