The beleaguered Office of Personnel Management (OPM) continues to wind its way through its current challenge while it also assimilates a new leader.

I have no doubt that Beth Cobert will do the job she was sent to do by the president, given her expertise and history; but it is just a temporary solution. OPM requires systemic change in order to support the government workforce. I hope Acting Director Cobert establishes the basis for that change and OPM rises to be a respected, forward thinking, organization that proactively handles the challenges of the day and can execute for results.

Now is OPM’s opportunity to change, to shine in the eyes of the workforce and our government leaders.

OPM must not only address the cybersecurity issue, it must become an agency that addresses critical human capital strategic imperatives and demonstrates that it is up to the challenges it faces every day – supporting a challenged workforce, creating strength in its infrastructure, and proactively identifying and addressing the human resources reforms that are on the horizon.

With the support of many inside and outside the agency, OPM needs to establish a new foundation that establishes a position of strength and capacity. As a start, leadership in Congress, the White House, and OPM must immediately begin an effective process that includes the basic factors below.

Hire an Effective Cross-Administration Leader

Right now, more than ever, OPM requires strong leadership. Given the nature of the change that is necessary and the timing of the next election, the White House must nominate for Congressional approval a strong leader that will stay in the job long after the election results have been tallied. In other words, hire a leader now that will serve this and future administrations with strength and continuity. Importantly, this leader must have the capacity, experience, and acumen to lead a vast and complex HR enterprise. This is not the time for partisanship or hiring “friends of the administration”. It is time to get strong leadership in place that can develop and lead an effective and progressive strategy, align an organization around that strategy, and become trusted by many. This takes time and, given the time remaining before the election, must transcend the administration. A director in office for just 18 months will not suffice. Continuity is critical and time is essential to make reforms stick.

Require a Culture of Transparency

Gone should be the days of obfuscation and a cloistered approach. OPM should not hide behind its limitations, but lean forward with strength and work with its many stakeholders. It’s time to call out the elephants in the room, identify the issues before they identify you, and do the hard work that is required. For years, regardless of who is leading OPM, members of Congress and the White House have held a similar, but unflattering, view of the agency. Specifically, they have deep concerns about the struggle to get data and information from OPM, how the agency’s plans are void of real meaningful strategies, and how there is always smoke and mirrors coming out of 1900 E Street. Transforming this culture begins now and requires collaboration between OPM’s leadership, the White House and others.

Build Capacity

OPM needs to invest in its people, IT infrastructure, and processes, while keeping the trains running and addressing the current crisis. That can be a very heavy lift. This investment needs to come now provided OPM can create a clear and compelling plan that is meaningful, measurable, and actionable (something Beth Cobert is capable of doing). In the long run a new leadership team may be necessary and the deputy director or the COO should be put in charge of executing the plan. The new acting director will need to make some tough decisions to make management changes, develop its people, and quickly bring in critical expertise. For a small agency OPM has a significant portfolio that includes procurement, program management and implementation of critical programs.

OPM’s mission also includes devising new and effective strategies to address IT, security, retirement, civil service reform, HR policy, security clearances, shared services, strategic workforce planning, and many other challenges. From the Combined Federal Campaign, to the Viewpoint Survey, the tremendous legacy systems, to insurance, OPM’s portfolio requires assessment, change, perseverance, and rigor.

OPM must develop a strong and effective plan now and Congress must be ready to change the 2016 budget or provide a supplement. OPM must do the hard work to convince Congress to support the budget. It’s not just about a financial investment, but an investment in legitimate, credible, and capable resources. It’s an investment in the future, and an investment in real change that will have lasting effects.

My desire is to help, not harm. I have worked with OPM for many years and have seen the need for systemic change first hand. Accountability is only as good as the leader you have and the White House’s desire to hold him or her accountable.

OPM is a necessary cog in the government’s need for efficiency and effectiveness; it is part of the life blood of success. The good people at OPM, and more importantly the federal workforce overall, deserve a strong agency that is effective at leading critical human capital initiatives, protecting privacy and security, and ensuring the government has the best and most effective workforce.


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