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Hearing of the Senate Special Committee on Aging - Leading by Example: Making Government a Role Model for Hiring and Retaining Older Workers


Location: Washington, DC

Hearing of the Senate Special Committee on Aging - Leading by Example: Making Government a Role Model for Hiring and Retaining Older Workers

SEN. KOHL: Good afternoon to one and all. We'd like to welcome our witnesses and we thank them for their participation. We are here today to discuss how we can make the federal government a model for hiring and retaining older workers.

Instituting policies that allow older Americans to continue working if they so choose has been a priority of mine and Senator Smith as well for a number of years. It's not the flashiest topic that these hearing rooms have seen, and it doesn't always garner the most attention.

But the issue of older workers is no less important to each of us, and indeed to the entire country. Last year, this committee held a hearing to consider what effect the retirement of the baby boom generation will have on our nation's economy.

We had the Federal Reserve testify that with tens of millions of baby boomers retiring, the impending labor shortage would largely slow the growth of our economy. Such a slowdown will lead to a lower standard of living for everyone.

I said this a year ago and I'll say it again today, with the retirement wave upon us, we must encourage employers to adopt policies now to attract and retain older workers.

It is possible to craft commonsense policy to create a no -- to create a win-win situation for both older workers and the companies that employ them. Today, we'll turn the spotlight on our own backyard, focusing on what the federal government is doing to hire and retain older workers, what policy changes would help them do it better, and what the private sector can learn from the improvements that we want to make.

But why the federal government? because nowhere is the foreseen labor shortage more pronounced than within the workforce of the nation's largest employer. Over the next five years, more than half a million permanent full-time federal employees, which is about one- third of the full-time federal workforce, will be eligible to retire.

And over the next 10 years, more than 60 percent of the federal workforce will reach retirement age. Perhaps working longer seems like a no-brainer. If you want to continue working past retirement age, simply don't retire and keep going to work everyday.

But what may be surprising to many is that there are often financial, bureaucratic, and personal barriers to doing so. For instance, a percentage of hard-earned social security benefits may be forfeited for some who continue to work, and the opportunity to take advantage of delayed retirement social security credits is limited.

Additionally, many older Americans desire increased flexibility in the workplace after they've hit retirement age. Some would like more time to travel and pursue hobbies, while others find themselves with care giving responsibilities for a loved one later in life.

Unfortunately, the barriers to continuing to work part-time are even more burdensome. They include loss of healthcare coverage, a decrease in pension earnings, and for some government employees, a hefty penalty under the Civil Service Retirement System.

I've found that there is not one simple change that would address all of these problems. Yesterday our Ranking Member Gordon Smith, Senator Conrad, and myself introduced the Incentives for Older Workers Act, which would address many of the barriers that I've talked about.

This is in addition to two bills that I introduced last year, which would offer expanded healthcare coverage and training to older workers, as well as incentives to employers.

We have an outstanding panel of witnesses today. We'd like to thank them again for their participation. And we now turn to the Ranking Member Gordon Smith for comments he would like to make.


SEN. KOHL: Thank you, Senator Smith.

Our first witnesses will share joint time today, Barbara Bovbjerg, as well as Robert Goldenkoff, are both with the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

Ms. Bovbjerg is the director of education, workforce, and income security issues, where she oversees evaluated studies on aging and retirement income policy.

Robert Goldenkoff is the director of strategic issues and is responsible for studies aimed at transforming the federal work force.

Our next witness will be Nancy Kichak with the U.S. Office of Personnel Management. Ms. Kichak is currently the associate director of Strategic Human Resource Policy where she leads the design, development, and implementation of human resource polices.

Over the last decade, she has held several positions within OPM, and has been recognized for her exemplary service.

Our last witness on the first panel is Thomas Dowd. Mr. Dowd is administrator for the Office of Policy Development and Research at the Department of Labor. He has over 20 years of experience with employment and training programs at the national, regional, state, and local levels.

He is here to explain the department's role as a leading agency for the interagency taskforce on the aging workforce.

So we welcome you all here today and Ms. Bovbjerg we will start with your testimony.


SEN. KOHL: Thank you, Senator Smith.

Ms. Kichak, OPM's Career Patterns initiative offers many flexible work options that could be very useful tools in retaining experienced and skilled older workers in the workforce.

What is OPM doing to promote the use of this initiative and to ensure that other agencies are taking advantage?

MS. KICHAK: There are many ways that we're promoting career patterns. One way is that we have required every agency to look at positions they are about to advertise to see what career pattern would be appropriate, and not just one but how many different career patterns would be appropriate so that they can identify that when they recruit so it's clear what workplace options, part-time et cetera, is available.

We also score agencies on that activity on the president's management agenda so that they need to pay particular attention to working in that area to get a good score.

We're also working with agencies to incorporate career patterns into their strategic plans and into their succession planning. And many agencies are putting this on their website.

We have also put on our website best practices of agencies in this area, so that agencies can go there and see some of the strategies that work in this area.

SEN. KOHL: Federal government currently does a lot of recruiting on college campuses.


SEN. KOHL: Would you outline the recruitment efforts that you employ to target older workers?

MS. KICHAK: Well, in addition to the college campuses, we ran ad campaigns and those were directed at the -- and the government hadn't done that before but within the last few years we ran the, "What did you do at your job today?" campaign to get people interested in federal employment.

We also do a lot of recruiting in veterans' groups. We have initiatives going on right now at the hospitals that are discharging wounded veterans so that we're reaching out to that community. That's an older community.

We also have special hiring authorities that can be used for bringing people on later in their career. One of those is for disabled individuals, special flexibilities to bring folks like that on. So those are some of the things that we're doing.

SEN. KOHL: As we said in our statements, there'll be enormous numbers of people retiring, who worked for the federal government, over the next 10 years.

Do you think federal government has policies or is going to develop policies or put them in place, have them up and operating in order to deal with this tremendous loss of people over the next 10 years?

Ms. Bovbjerg?

MS. BOVBJERG: I like to think that we can do that. I think we need to approach it with a more concerted effort.

I applaud the approach of the Department of Labor's taskforce, I think that institutionalizing the collaboration among agencies is really important.

But as Senator Smith noted it's crucial to get to it on the statutory and regulatory changes that might need to be made, because as you know -- you know better than anyone those things can take time.

This is urgent, it's particularly urgent as Robert pointed our earlier, in certain occupations. An agency that I look at for a lot or reasons, is the Social Security Administration, it is going to get it from both sides.

They're going to lose a lot of very capable and experienced people and perhaps not be able to recruit the people they need to follow behind them unless they do something to try to encourage people to work longer.

We need to move quickly, but I like to think that with leadership from OPM, from Labor, agencies paying more attention to those flexibilities, the support from the Committee on Ageing and from the bills that we're considering now, that we could do it.

SEN. KOHL: Any other comments from anybody on the panel?

Mr. Dowd?

MR. DOWD: I'd only like to echo the thoughts of my colleague, and that is to say that we at Labor are very committed to continuing the effort with regards to not only the completion of the report but continuing to work with these workgroups to get these things done on a variety of levels within all seven of those workgroup committees.

I think that's really key to actually making progress to answer your question that you just asked is that if we just simply put the report on the shelf then I don't think anything will get done.

But we're certainly not doing that, and we're very committed to working with our colleagues at OPM and GAO and all the other agencies to make sure we keep moving forward. Because this is a fundamental issue, it's -- we need all the talent, we need all the workers we can in America, going forward, to be competitive and we certainly can't let up just because we completed a report.

SEN. KOHL: Any other comments? Do you think -- yes, Ms. Kichak, go right ahead.

MS. KICHAK: I was just going to say, as you mentioned, we have lots of programs in place to prepare for the -- for the folks that are leaving such as succession planning, et cetera. But nothing substitutes for being able to retain your experienced worker.

I mean, you can do everything that you want to, to prepare, to look for the same skills, and to try to transfer the knowledge, but nothing equals being able to keep the person who's been in the field and has done it, which is why we would really like and appreciate any help on either of these proposals that will help us keep our folks in the office longer in helping us with our work.

SEN. KOHL: Very, very valid comment, and certainly totally accurate.

MS. KICHAK: Thank you.

SEN. KOHL: I thank you all for appearing, and at this point we'll turn to our second panel.

Our first witness on the second panel is Max Stier. Mr. Stier is the president and CEO of the Partnership for Public Service, which is a non-profit, non-partisan organization dedicated to revitalizing our federal government by inspiring Americans to consider a career in public service.

The recently launched FedExperience initiative to encourage older Americans to pursue careers with the federal government is an outstanding example of what he's trying to do.

Our second witness is Chai Feldblum -- Feldblum, I'm sorry -- she is a professor at the Georgetown University Law Center where she directs their federal legislation clinic.

She also serves as a co-director of Workplace Flexibility 2010, where she researches and promotes flexible work arrangements including those utilized within federal agencies.

We appreciate the fact that you're here with us today.

And Mr. Stier, we'll take your testimony.


SEN. KOHL: Thank you, Ms. Feldblum.

Mr. Stier, the Partnership for Public Services does do extensive research to rank the best agencies for older workers. Can you tell us a little bit about which agencies receive the highest ranks and what policies made these agencies so friendly to older workers? Could they be duplicated throughout the federal government?

MR. STIER: I think, Chai got it right and that is that by and large what is good for older workers is good for all workers, and therefore if you look at our rankings of federal agencies you will see that there really isn't a whole lot of variations overall in terms of employee satisfaction on our rankings.

The same agencies are at the top and Nuclear Regulatory Commission is number one for all of its workforce, it is number one for our workers over 40.

There are about 11 other agencies that you will see some substantial variation between sort of over 40 and under 40. But the reality is that they have to do a lot with individual cultural issues more than anything else.

What -- again what Chai said I think is exactly right, and that is that, what all workers are going to want is a work environment in which they have meaningful work in which that their skills are valued, in which they have leadership where they can see what they are doing, how it is connected to the overall mission of the organization.

And beyond that there are obviously a variety of different support mechanisms that agencies can create, but fundamental is to make people understand that their work is valued and that their work is meaningful.

And that I think is the key and it is a place where the federal government does well in some instances certainly around the mission orientation, but has a lot of work yet to do in others.

And again, as I mentioned the primary areas around leadership development, Federal government has very, very low rankings when you ask federal workers about their perception of leadership. And this includes both political and career leaderships, and very importantly when you benchmark that against the private sector those ratings are incredibly low.

Private sector, you almost -- you know, double the approval to the public sector around leadership issues.

And it is the -- if you do -- if you look at the analysis, it is the issue that if you improved on it would have the greatest impact on overall engagement of the federal workforce, and so it absolutely vital.

SEN. KOHL: What issue did you say would have the --

MR. STIER: Leadership, focusing on leadership talent, focusing on the ability of frontline managers all the way to the top of the house to provide the environment, to provide the direction to their employees to enable them to give of their discretionary energy, to do the best possible.

A question was asked about GAO, as to why it's that's number two on our best places to work ranking and what is clear is that they have had superb leadership.

You know, in part it had something to do with the fact that they have had leadership of longer tenure, Dave Walker, who just stepped down, spent 10 years as a leader, obviously, at GAO.

And I think one of the unique challenges in the public sector and in particular the federal government faces is that it has short-term political leadership that is not incented to focus on the long-term organizational issues that the federal government faces.

And so again I think this is an area where this committee and Congress can play a very important role in providing that long-term attention on organizational health.

Political leaders coming into the executive branch are not rewarded for focusing on organizational health. They need to be, if there are no metrics to understand the organizational health it only makes it worse.

And that's part of our argument here is that we need to make sure we have those metrics to understand how healthy government is from a real-time perspective. Right now, we have lagging indicators, public failures, response to Hurricane Katrina. We don't have anything else and that is the real problem.

SEN. KOHL: Well then what are the characteristics of leadership that tend to drive people out?


MR. STIER: Well, again in the -- you know, the old thought is that people don't leave jobs, they leave their boss. And there are dissatisfiers and there are satisfiers, and certainly the characteristics that I think probably are most core to a failure to -- for leaders to be successful and keeping talent.

And I agree with Nancy, that the first order of business is keep the good talent that you have is that there is no prioritization on it. And so, by and large, managers in government are not either assessed or rewarded on the basis of how they manage their talent.

And that's fundamental. Unless folks are -- understand what good management is and unless they are judged on that basis, unless they are rewarded on that basis then it is the unusual manager who pays sufficient attention to it.

And that's endemic in the government and I think that's a -- it's a major, major problem.

SEN. KOHL: Do you agree with that Ms. Feldblum?

MS. FELDBLUM: Yeah, and actually, I'm thinking about it -- I'm thinking about it in the context of the research we've seen on Flexible Work Arrangements.

You know, people have sometimes a sense of how they do jobs, you come, you show up, there's this face time, you know, there is a rigidity around it.

When flexible work arrangements work well, it's because the supervisor has energized the office, all of the folks there to say we can get this job done well and still do it in a way that will accommodate, will manage, will facilitate, whatever is going on in your life.

You know, be it care giving or you want to get it -- another training, you know, it is so important to have continued training in some of these areas.

So if you have a manager, a leader, who says, this is important, that's the first step. Now, there are a few things you have got to do, your number one as Max says, you have got to incentivize the manager to want to do that.

I mean, I still remember reading just about a year ago, in a -- you know, Washington Post, some manager say, well, I'm getting rid of the alternative work schedule, part-time just won't work here.

And I'm thinking, okay, there is a little education that clearly needed to have happened.

Right now for that person it wasn't going to work, but across the government it is working, right. So this is both the challenge and the opportunity of how big the government is.

It is working well in some places, we have to figure out how to find those folks, bring them to training and education to other agencies. I mean we have a law that says they can offer it like FECWR, Flexible Employees Compressed Work Rate -- blah-blah.

We have a law that says that they can offer it, we have OPM that says they're supposed to offer technical assistance, but there is not much more coherent behind it as opposed to saying this is their headline, we're going to make workplace flexibility work, and we are going to find where it is working. Then we are going to have a panel where we will bring other supervisors and employees.

And then two years later someone who is in the audience will be up on the panel, training the next one. But it's got to be a combination of incentivizing the managers to want to do it, giving them the resources to do it and saying this is a big deal to get this done right.

SEN. KOHL: Would you say that some of the best mangers -- some of the best motivators and leaders -- or the majority of them, simply because of the attractiveness of the private sector, in so many ways not the least which is financial, but the best are found out there and it's harder to find them, retain them in the federal workplace?

MR. STIER: I don't think so. I think that the federal government has unique advantages that enable it to recruit and retrain -- and retain some of the very best talents, some of the very best management talent.

Most people are more motivated by meaningful work, most people want to make a difference. Certainly the federal government does not stack up well in certain professions on the financial categories, some financial categories.

I mean, again especially for older Americans health care is of extreme importance and that's what, you know our research and everyone's research shows that federal government offers an incredible benefit with respect to the health care, particularly for those at the backend of their career.

If they spend five years in the federal government, they can have health care for the rest of their lives. The point is that the federal government has intrinsically what it needs to attract the right talent.

It needs to do a lot of work to ensure that the American public understands those opportunities because right now it's not on the radar screen.

Older Americans, only 11 percent, say they have any real familiarity with federal government jobs, same for younger folks as well. It's not on the radar screen.

When they learn about it, the more they know, the more they like it. And that's very powerful because obviously, there is a solution there, you can market better and you'll actually get it out.

Nancy mentioned that OPM is starting to do some advertising. Think about the military versus the civilian side. On the military side, we've spent billions of dollars ensuring that we have the right talent going into the military.

We've not had anything remotely close to that kind of investment on the civilian side, and yet ensuring that we have the right talent in the civilian side of government is vital for our physical security as well as a lot of other things.

So we have not, I think, invested appropriately in ensuring that the talent knows about these opportunities, and again I would go back to my schematic. Then you've got to make sure that those entry processes, the hiring process allows you to bring that talent in and then to manage them effectively.

This is a system problem though, you won't fix it by simply doing one thing. And I think Chai is right as well. You won't fix it simply by passing laws. You have to ensure they you create incentive systems that allow for these laws to be used effectively.

And part of that is increasing transparency in having the right, the data points, and allowing the right people to know about it, which will itself generate change.

Our best places to work rankings, Hank Paulson at the Department of Treasury held a day-long session in which he brought together all the top managers to talk about how to improve their rankings, in the Best Places Ranking.

Senator Kempthorne did the same thing. These things would not happen, but for the fact that they are being ranked against each other and that the data exists. It's very powerful. Tim Zagat, started Zagat's Guide, got it right.

That's very powerful stuff and we need to see how to apply that power to driving the kind of change that we want in government.

MS. FELDBLUM: Like that Zagat survey for federal employees. But I actually, I agree that there is talent, talented managers, passionate managers in the federal government.

I mean, I've seen managers in the private sector who've gotten it that integrating flexible work arrangements into their enterprise is going to help their bottom line.

We've have survey after survey that actually shows that, and in fact in terms of some of this data collection of the federal government doing its own collection and assessments, I think this is ripe for a public/private partnership in the research, data collection, because there is some very interesting stuff going on in the private sector.

So yes, there are some very passionate smart managers in the private sector. But I think what the federal government has going for it is that mission piece. We are here to serve. We are not here to increase the bottom line.

We are here to serve and there are a lot of people in the federal government who are energized by that. It is about finding those folks, telling those stories, having it as part of a strategic, coherent plan, you know, of finding them, telling the stories, giving them the incentives, and that's why I say it can't be the tagline, this workplace flexibility needs to be the headline.

When I read the interagency taskforce report, I was struck by two things. One, as a group that has been running a phased retirement working group for a year-and-a-half now and really digging into the statute, the regs, and ERISA, the code, we have a good sense of the complexities around the statutes and regs that need to be addressed. And they really id just do a little nod of -- it should be looked at.

But the second reaction I had was workplace flexibility was there, but not highlighted in a way that, I think, could be much more effective, much more effective.

SEN. KOHL: So you both would say, we at the federal level are or are not, for the most part, a model of flexibility to encourage people to stay? We are or we are not?

MS. FELDBLUM: I don't think you are yet in a way that the American public understands. I think there is a lot going on and lot more going on in the federal government actually than in a lot of private sectors, but it's not marketed well to the outside.

The private sector, one of the things it knows how to do is market itself. So they market their flexible work arrangements. I think there is significant potential, it is not being leveraged yet in the way that it can be.

MR. STIER: I agree, I agree a hundred percent. And only thing I would add is to also to address your prior question as well, and that is that the hiring model in the federal government historically has been a career model, some one would come in, spend 30 years, and then retire.

The way the talent markets have changed and the way the demographics are currently existing for the federal government, the federal government has to move from that career model to what I would describe as a career builder model.

And I think the career patterns notion that OPM has presented is exactly the right approach to be thinking about: multiple forms, multiple channels into public service.

It's still the case, however, that that paradigm shift hasn't really occurred in practice in the federal government and it needs to. So if you look at older workers in particular, more experienced workers, by and large we are not seeing that much talent flow from the outside coming in.

And again, you have those series of issues, series of problems that you'll need to address in order to make that happen. And part of it is the marketing, part of it is the -- but part of it is also going to be a cultural change within government to -- and I think it's a very important cultural change because right now we have a very insular workforce.

And as a result, we don't benefit from the variation of ideas, the experimentations, the knowledge that exists by having multiple organizations contribute to a single organization in this case the federal government's ability to get stuff done.

That's true even within the federal government where you have a lot of talent that stays put in single agencies or single pieces of agencies. The senior executive service was originally created as a management group that was supposed to move across government and be transportable.

That by and large does not happen. Part of it is that again there's not been the incentive for those folks to move around. In the intelligence community, they've just adopted the joint duty model that the military has already adopted.

So if you want to be promoted, you need to move around. I think those are the kinds of things that you could do to, again, promote the movement of talent in government that would be quite constructive.

We have huge opportunities, but they have not all yet been realized.

SEN. KOHL: Any other comments either one of you would like to make on this topic?

MS. FELDBLUM: Marcy Karin, the attorney I mentioned put together a timeline for me, which I would like to actually submit again as another appendix. But it was a really fascinating timeline from 1978 to now of stuff that Congress has done and agencies have done in this area.

And I just want to say that the Senate Aging Committee has been, in fact, an incredible catalyst for a lot of good work. Now, it needs to then connect with Finance, Homeland Security, Government Affairs, et cetera, but I have to say reading that timeline, said to me that what this committee is doing is exactly right.

And it's really about taking it now to the next step and moving with the other committees, and Workplace Flexibility 2010 certainly stands ready to work on that.

You can see I created this in 2004, and I put 2010 into the title of my organization to indicate that I didn't have ideas and policies now, but I was trying to facilitate a process that would get us some place in 2010.

And I certainly hope this is a committee we'll be able to keep working with to get to where I hope we get to.

SEN. KOHL: Well, on that high compliment for the Aging Committee, I think it's a good time now --


SEN. KOHL: -- to take what we have and thank you for being here. You've added a lot to the debate. We all know there is a big challenge ahead. I think that working together we can accomplish a lot.

So appreciate you for being here. Thank you all for being here.

MS. FELDBLUM: Thank you.

MR. STIER: Thank you very much.

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