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How the Obama administration shaped the federal workforce

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As President Obama’s administration winds its approach to a January finale, the federal workforce can mirror on eight years of dizzying highs and daunting lows.

The 44th president got here into workplace with goals to bolster the nation in the wake of close to financial collapse and can depart with the federal paperwork at a crossroads of each modernization and id.

Federal Times seems to be again at a few of the vital occasions that shaped the Obama administration’s relationship with the federal workforce and the way they’ll inform the subsequent president.

One defining second in the historical past of the Obama administration will undoubtedly be the sequester.

Originally devised as a poison capsule to pressure price range negotiations in Congress as a part of the Budget Control Act of 2011, the austerity price range cuts — referred to as the “Fiscal Cliff” — turned very actual on March 1, 2013, once they capped discretionary spending throughout the federal authorities.

The cuts have been projected to complete $85.four billion in lowered price range authority in the first yr with subsequent, fluctuating cuts over the subsequent decade.

The rippling impact took maintain largely in company spending and tasks, however the price range caps outlined how the authorities would do enterprise for the the rest of Obama’s second time period and probably contributed to a declining federal workforce, although not by way of quick layoffs. 

The legacy of the sequester gave rise to the notion that discretionary spending and company budgets can be flat at greatest, requiring feds to offer extra providers with fewer assets, pushing the drive for extra innovation to ship on authorities options.

Pay freezes and $16 muffins
One faulty story of overpriced breakfast pastries might not have been the starting of pay freezes for federal staff, nevertheless it turned the posterchild of the local weather they confronted throughout the Obama years.

In a 2011 inspector basic’s report detailing spending by the Justice Department on convention planning, the salient declare was the company spent $four,200 on 250 muffins — or $16 per muffin — at an Executive Office for Immigration Review convention held at the Capital Hilton in Washington, D.C., in August 2009.

The $16 muffin turned emblematic of extreme waste in the government department, besides it wasn’t true.

Investigators later found further documentation that confirmed the Justice Department didn’t commit exorbitant muffin-procurement, although its elements had spent greater than the Justice Management Division allowed in its tips.

But the muffin narrative gained steam and fueled the notion of wasteful authorities spending.

Happening concurrently with the muffin scandal was an ongoing freeze on federal pay that started in 2011.

Seeking to quell considerations over deficit spending and then-weak financial restoration, Obama introduced a two-year pay freeze for federal staff meant to save lots of $5 billion towards the finances. The freeze was prolonged for an additional yr in March 2013 in a deal to avert the risk of a authorities shutdown.  

The freeze led to 2014, when the White House proposed a 1 % bump for workers beneath the General Schedule and matched it in 2015. The Obama administration secured locality pay will increase in 2016 to maneuver staff to 1.three %, adopted by a proposed 1.6 % in 2017.

But the good points did little to quell the disenchantment of federal worker unions, who demanded at the least a 5 % increase to make up for the three pay-freeze years.

While the freezes didn’t end in layoffs in the federal workforce, employment numbers fell from an administration-high of four.four million staff — together with census staff — to four.18 million 4 years later, a 6 % drop.

The 2013 shutdown
The gridlock between the Obama White House and Congress got here to a head in 2013, when the federal authorities shut down for 16 days after factions in the GOP sought to defund the Affordable Care Act throughout 2014 price range negotiations.

While medical insurance exchanges launched on Oct. 1 and weren’t impacted by the shutdown, federal company operations floor to a halt.

The contractor group was additionally affected when work on authorities tasks stalled until they have been pre-funded.

Furloughed federal staff have been awarded $2 billion in again pay, however solely after the shutdown ended on Oct. 16. Estimates at the time stated that the shutdown took $24 billion out of the financial system.

The shutdown coincided with the rocky launch of, the digital face of the ACA, which noticed frequent crashes and frustration for customers trying to join medical insurance via the web site.

The Affordable Care Act
The signature legislative achievement of the Obama administration can also be the precept floor on which lots of legislative battles of the final eight years have been fought.

The medical insurance regulation has been tied to 67 repeal efforts in the House, quite a few Supreme Court selections, one authorities shutdown, was a big situation in two presidential elections and can probably impression in the 45th president’s administration.

While the regulation decreased the variety of uninsured Americans from 16 % of the inhabitants in 2010 to eight.9 in 2016, even the impression on some federal staff was rife with controversy.

While most feds remained underneath the Federal Employee Health Benefits program for his or her required insurance coverage, Congress was not initially required to arrange its personal well being care plan, creating the notion of an “exemption” for the legislative department.

Congressional employees have been required to purchase insurance coverage via the D.C. small enterprise insurance coverage change, however an Office of Personnel Management regulation requires Congress to select up the employer contribution of the insurance coverage value, entitling them to employer subsides. Sen. David Vitter, R-La., stated the OPM regulation stands in contradiction to federal code.

Vitter proposed an modification to take away Congress from the employer contribution and growing insurance coverage prices consequently. The modification handed the Senate in 2015, however it has but to develop into regulation.

As a results of the regulation, Vitter has held up the nomination of appearing OPM Director Beth Cobert to grow to be everlasting director.

The regulation’s implementation additionally result in the creation of the U.S. Digital Service — established by the group introduced in to repair — and, later, comparable groups, like the General Services Administration’s digital consultancy 18F.

The expertise hole
The way forward for the federal workforce could also be decided extra by one concern than any future president’s coverage: age.

Nearly half of federal staff can be eligible to retire in the subsequent 5 years, leaving the authorities with a possible dearth of expertise and no deep bench to switch it.

Further complicating the problem are efforts to retain the subsequent crop of expertise for the workforce: Millennials. The Obama administration made recruiting and retaining Millennials a key a part of its coverage objectives.

The White House launched each the Presidential Management Fellows and the Presidential Innovation Fellows to usher in current school graduates and prime technologists to assist revolutionize the federal authorities.

The Obama administration targeted on the use of metrics and knowledge to take the engagement temperature of the present workforce and enhance morale at federal businesses.

In creating the web site, OPM sought to offer managers with the knowledge wanted to tell their strategy to worker engagement, drawing on Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey numbers and inspiring lively involvement with the workforce to make sure communication was a precedence.

To recruit the subsequent era of federal staff, the administration launched the Recruitment, Engagement, Diversity and Inclusion (REDI) plan — later rebranded as Hiring Excellence.

The plan focuses on collaboration between HR departments and hiring managers to rent the proper expertise, but in addition consists of metrics-based methods like resume mining.

The OPM hack
In 2015, OPM found that its personnel and background investigation information had been accessed in a devastating cyber breach, exposing the info of 21.5 million staff.

The hack introduced the matter of cyberwarfare to the forefront of the nationwide dialog, prompting the Obama administration to not solely develop cybersecurity insurance policies, but in addition jumpstart info know-how modernization initiatives.

As a part of his Cybersecurity National Action Plan, Obama laid out methods to each enhance the nation’s cybersecurity posture and develop a plan to replace the authorities’s IT infrastructure.

While CNAP’s legacy will stretch into the subsequent administration, the influence of the OPM hack has confirmed that beforehand deemed “soft-targets” — together with federal staff’ private info — would now be seen as essential parts of cybersecurity.

Executive orders
While the outsourcing of federal providers expanded with the Clinton administration, efforts by the Obama White House to manage contractors elevated in the previous eight years.

Obama crafted government orders to broaden additional time, paid sick depart, reporting necessities and different points that added new laws for federal contractors.

These — coupled with immigration insurance policies and 6 weeks of household depart for federal staff — represented the administration’s technique of governing via the government order as a workaround to the intransigence of Congress.

Many of the government orders have been designed to roll again the degree of outsourcing of providers offered by the federal authorities, but in addition noticed a variety of courtroom challenges, with some being overturned.    

History will proceed to interpret the influence of the Obama administration, however for federal staff, it marked a interval full of promise, tumult and revolutionary change.

Even as the subsequent president takes workplace in January, the significance of Obama’s insurance policies for the federal authorities will proceed to play out lengthy after his time period ends.

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