Inspired to Serve: steps to advance public service and build a stronger federal workforce

March 30, 2020

By Steve Barney

Many Americans with critical skills want to join public service. But outdated personnel systems, failed recruiting processes and a lack of a hiring pipeline of students and recent graduates puts federal agencies’ capacity to maintain a qualified workforce at risk. It also jeopardizes their ability to fulfill their important missions, according to a new report by the National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service, on which I serve.

The report includes several policy recommendations and legislative proposals to restore federal personnel systems at a time when our nation urgently needs a viable workforce. The report details the following practical solutions to ensure that agencies attract new generations of Americans to public service and compete for the talent they need.

Policymakers must fix basic federal hiring processes. The report suggests job descriptions should be short and accessible without government jargon and that agencies should accept standard one-page resumes and eliminate the candidate self-assessment questionnaire. Federal agencies must empower subject-matter experts and hiring managers to accurately assess the applicants’ qualifications, and all agencies should have access to OPM’s online assessment tools. The Commission also recommends a comprehensive revamp of hiring preferences and noncompetitive hiring options that would help attract qualified veterans and national service alumni to the federal civil service.

Federal agencies need functional internship and recent-graduate hiring programs. To attract new generations to public service, the nation needs innovative approaches to build a pipeline between postsecondary education and public service. The Commission recommends creating a Public Service Corps—equivalent to the military’s Reserve Officers’ Training Corps—for the civil service, granting scholarships in exchange for a commitment to work for a federal agency. A new Federal Fellowship and Scholarship Center would streamline and promote programs to develop students with critical skills and leadership ability for federal employment. The Commission would also establish a government-wide goal of 30,000 annual recent-graduate hires by 2026, rising to 50,000 per year by 2031.

Agencies need a high-performing personnel culture and must invest in their human capital capabilities. According to the report, cybersecurity and health care personnel systems should be streamlined and made available to all agencies. The Commission recommends that federal employee benefits must accommodate all career paths, while protecting valuable benefits that help agencies retain employees who make public service their career choice.

Watch this video to learn more about these report’s findings.

Watch this video to learn more about these report’s findings.

A strong federal workforce is vital to the security, public health, and prosperity of the nation, and the COVID-19 pandemic makes that clearer than ever. Many of the bold changes that we propose will require congressional action. Policymakers have an opportunity—and an imperative—to bolster the federal workforce and bring new generations of Americans into public service. To learn more about the Commission’s recommendations, please visit https://www.inspire2serve.gov/reports and read the Partnership’s statement on the report here.

Steve Barney was appointed by late Senator John S. McCain as a Commissioner on the National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service. He is the former General Counsel of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and a retired Navy judge advocate.

Since its 2017 inception, the National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service has researched public service challenges. The Commission was charged by Congress to review the military selective service process as well as ways to increase participation in military, national, and public service to meet national security and other critical needs of the nation.