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Federal Managers Association


  • Testimony for the Record

    Before the United States Senate
    Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs
    Subcommittee on Oversight of Government Management, the Federal Workforce and the District of Columbia

    April 29, 2010

    Developing Federal Employees and Supervisors:
    Mentoring, Internships, and Training in the Federal Government

    Statement Submitted for the Record by
    The Federal Managers Association

    Chairman Akaka, Ranking Member Voinovich and Members of the Senate Subcommittee on Oversight of Government Management, the Federal Workforce, and the District of Columbia:

    On behalf of the over 200,000 managers, supervisors, and executives in the federal government whose interests are represented by the Federal Managers Association (FMA), we would like to thank you for allowing us to express our views regarding supervisory training and mentorship programs in the federal government.

    Established in 1913, FMA is the largest and oldest Association of managers and supervisors in the federal government. FMA originally organized within the Department of Defense to represent the interests of its civil service managers and supervisors, and has since branched out to include nearly forty different federal departments and agencies. We are a nonprofit, professional, membership-based advocacy organization dedicated to promoting excellence in the federal government.

    The Retirement Wave and Opportunity

    According to an Office of Personnel Management (OPM) report published in 2008, approximately 53 percent of the permanent, full-time federal workforce will be eligible for retirement by 2014. Of those employees eligible to retire, the report estimates 57 percent will leave government service. With federal managers and supervisors representing the more senior members of the federal workforce, we can expect them to retire at a significantly faster rate than their non-supervisor counterparts. While the surge of federal retirement on the horizon seems daunting, federal agencies are presented with a unique opportunity to reshape the federal management cadre for the benefit of the entire federal workforce and the American taxpayer. As agencies grapple with the demands posed by an exodus of highly skilled managers, proper investments must be made in developing the next generation of supervisors equipped with the skills necessary to advance the federal government’s mission now and in the future.

    Evolution of Management

    Today’s supervisors operate in a work environment far different than those of generations past. The evolution of federal agency responsibilities over the years has catalyzed the need for a knowledge-based workforce, one that is less consumed with manufacturing widgets and more oriented towards information processing. Just as the skills required by civil servants are evolving constantly, the responsibilities federal managers and supervisors shoulder in the modern workplace are transforming as well, growing in complexity and requiring progressive talents and training.

    In recent years, the concept of employee engagement has garnered significant discussion among those in the federal community tasked with evaluating agency and employee performance. According to the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB):

    Engagement refers to a high level of motivation to perform well at work combined with passion for the work. Engaged employees are absorbed intellectually and emotionally in their work and vigorously invest their best efforts in producing the outcomes needed for the organization to achieve its goals.

    Engagement and performance, MSPB argues, go hand-in-hand. Agencies with engaged employees experience fewer Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) complaints, score higher on the results section of the Office of Management and Budget’s Performance Assessment Rating Tool, and experience less productivity loss through sick leave use or work-related illness/injury leave requests.

    It is no surprise supervisors’ management skills are a key factor in fostering a work environment that promotes employee engagement. One MSPB study found that 87 percent of engaged employees believed their direct supervisors possessed strong management skills. That same study found that only 13.7 percent of employees not engaged agreed their managers possessed strong management skills. Based on its findings, MSPB established supervisor competencies as the single most influential component of engagement. As John Palguta, Vice President for Policy at the Partnership for Public Service, discussed in his testimony before the Subcommittee, the Partnership found that employee attitudes toward their managers and supervisors represented the number one predictor of changes in employee satisfaction, a key component of engagement. According to Palguta, “[a]s employees’ views of their supervisors decline so does employee satisfaction,” and a decline in satisfaction leads to a drop in performance.

    The challenges accompanying managing employees with the intent of cultivating engagement are immense, requiring a more time-consuming, hands-on supervisory approach. Supervisors are tasked with managing employees’ motivation in the modern workplace, not simply managing individual’s output of tangible goods. Critical in this effort is instilling a sense of teamwork and pride in one’s work through communication of how individuals’ daily tasks relate to agencies’ core missions. Greater emphasis is placed on performance management and supervisor-employee feedback in this context, requiring supervisor flexibility to address the needs of each individual subordinate.

    The stress the Administration and Congress place on transforming the civil service into a flexible, adaptive workforce has also altered and expanded the management responsibilities borne by federal supervisors. FMA supports telework initiatives introduced by Members Congress and endorsed by OPM, but these programs will only succeed if current and future federal supervisors possess the competencies required to manage operations remotely. Additional skills are required to maintain employee engagement, monitor performance and promote cooperation when face-to-face communication is restricted. Training for Success

    When looking to fill current or anticipated future management vacancies, agencies naturally turn to the more senior members of the workforce who exhibit the greatest technical aptitude, particularly under the General Schedule system where pay is based on promotion through various levels and steps. An MSPB report released in 2008 found that 68 percent employees held a favorable opinion of their direct supervisors’ technical skills, but only 55 percent held a favorable opinion of their supervisors’ management expertise. That same report found that 25 percent of an employee’s overall job satisfaction hinges on how he or she regards her supervisor.

    An agency’s ability to meet its mission directly correlates to the quality of workforce management. There is a clear need for training if a manager is to be fully successful. If an agency promotes an individual to managerial status based on technical prowess but then fails to develop the individual’s supervisory and leadership skills, the agency severely jeopardizes its capability to deliver the level of service the American public expects.

    The development of managerial skills is one of the greatest investments an agency may make, both in terms of productivity gains and the retention of valuable employees. A supervisor’s ability to effectively monitor his or her workforce while resolving internal conflicts is instrumental in forming a harmonious work environment. Whether serving as a mediator between upper level managers and their staff or clearly defining organizational goals, well-trained federal managers serve a vital role in the continuity of operations on a day-to-day basis and are an essential component in ensuring the federal government retains a workforce that espouses a strong work ethic and commitment to the nation’s wellbeing.

    Federal Supervisor Training Act – S. 674

    In 2004, the President signed into law the Federal Workforce Flexibility Act (P.L. 108-411), which added §4121 of 5 U.S.C. requiring agencies to create basic training programs for federal managers and supervisors. Hailed at the time by many in the federal community as a major step forward in ensuring agencies afford their managers the training necessary to effectively supervise their employees, the law, however, failed to establish funding mechanisms and accountability measures to ensure training takes place. The law also failed to provide specific guidance on the type of training managers and supervisors should undertake, while omitting when and how often this training should take place. The result is that current regulations afford agencies the latitude to cut training from their budgets when funding is tight, and as you are aware, funding is always tight.

    In order to provide federal managers and supervisors with training on the full array of subjects necessary to effectively monitor and manage their employees, we at FMA urge Members of Congress to support the Federal Supervisor Training Act of 2009 (S. 674), introduced by Senator Akaka. This legislation, which FMA helped craft as part of the Government Managers Coalition (GMC), requires agencies to provide managers and supervisors with interactive, instructor-based training within one year of promotion to a supervisory position. Training would cover three primary management topics: basic supervisory training; mentorship training; and, training focused on prohibited personnel practices including collective bargaining and anti-discrimination rights. After receiving initial managerial training, supervisors would engage in training updates once every three years, offered via an instructor, Web-based technology or various other alternative mediums. Senator Akaka’s legislation also includes an accountability provision to establish competency standards to ensure the training and its intent are effective while requiring OPM collect data on the programs.

    We are encouraged to see that Congress and the Administration over the past year have demonstrated a strong commitment to examining the state of training in the federal government. In December of 2009, OPM published final regulations requiring agencies to provide much of the training included in the Federal Supervisor Training Act. The regulations require agencies provide supervisors with training on how to improve employee performance, conduct performance appraisals, and identify and address employees exhibiting unacceptable performance. As OPM Associate Director and Chief Human Capitol Officer Nancy Kichak discussed in her testimony before the Subcommittee, OPM is in the process of developing guidance to assist agency implementation of the regulations and has high hopes for agency adoption. Relying on regulations alone, however, does not constitute an adequate long-term training solution. By establishing a mandatory initial training program and ongoing seminars the entire workforce benefits from better supervision and improved leadership. Funding these programs in the appropriations process as opposed to relying on OPM regulations is essential to prevent training dollars from being cut when budgets are tight. It is also important to note the OPM regulations fail to mandate agencies provide training on prohibited personnel practices, employee collective bargaining and union participation rights, and procedures involved in employee rights enforcement. We believe managers trained in these areas will lead to fewer employee grievances, both formal and informal, as supported in testimony provided to the Subcommittee by leaders of two federal employee unions.

    The Fiscal Year 2010 National Defense Authorization Act (P.L. 111-84), signed into law in October 2009, included training language pulled directly from S. 674, applying the provisions to Department of Defense (DOD) managers and supervisors. As Acting Deputy Under Secretary of Defense Marilee Fitzgerald discussed in her testimony, the Department of Defense conducted an analysis of current and future workforce requirements and identified a critical need for enhanced supervisory training to develop “diverse civilian leaders who effectively manage people in a joint environment, ensure continuity of leadership, and sustain a learning environment that drive continuous improvement across the enterprise.” Fitzgerald detailed DOD’s belief that managers and supervisors on the front lines “can have a stronger impact on employee performance and productivity than anyone else in the management chain.” We encourage Congress to capitalize on this momentum and approve the Federal Supervisor Training Act to codify regulations currently in place to provide all supervisors across the federal government with managerial training covering the full gamut of supervisory responsibilities.

    Mentorship in the Federal Workforce

    The training of federal supervisors cannot end in the classroom. If we allow this to occur, then we are ignoring the value of on-the-job development and the importance of providing individuals with a sounding board for ideas. This is why it is essential that Congress express support for mentoring in the federal government, a chief component of the Federal Supervisor Training Act. Mentoring, both in terms of supervisor to employee mentorship and supervisor to supervisor mentorship, allows for the transference of knowledge in a setting that encourages ownership of one’s responsibilities and a sense of cooperation towards a common goal in the workplace. As an essential component to the stability of every organization, the mentoring process provides an avenue for honest and empathetic collaboration while developing participants’ full potential.

    Supervisor to Employee

    The potential benefits of equipping federal employees with mentors in the supervisory ranks are enormous. Both the employee and mentor benefit through this symbiotic relationship. Mentors serve as a coach or guide for employees, motivating and empowering workers to reach their full potential while facilitating their professional growth. Often, the day-to-day duties of an employee overshadow the big picture. A mentor reinforces the importance of performing every task to the best of the employee’s ability, while maintaining a global perspective on its significance in the long term. Mentors, on the other hand, benefit through learning about the challenges encountered by workers on a daily basis, helping them determine how best to employ managerial tactics to create a more productive workforce.

    The mentor-employee relationship must establish trust and strong communication to ultimately achieve the desired results. For mentorship programs to be effective, several guidelines must be adhered to. A mentor should not be a direct supervisor of the employee, but must have buy-in from the supervisor. Each participant must be personally vested in the relationship - a mentor may provide both professional and personal support. Finally, the mentor relationship should cross professional areas of expertise while lasting a specific period of time, after which an informal relationship may continue. It is important that a distinction be made between formal and informal mentorship programs. Both have their strengths and, to capitalize on the benefits of mentorship in the workplace, both strategies should be employed.

    Supervisor to Supervisor

    When a supervisor is set to retire, agencies must work to ensure that the knowledge they possess does not depart with him or her. Creating mentorship programs between veteran and novice supervisors helps mitigate this loss of institutional knowledge and leadership skills. Such a relationship facilitates the application of training received in the classroom in a cost effective manner. As discussed earlier in our testimony, many managers and supervisors are promoted to these positions based on their technical skills. By establishing mentoring programs with experienced supervisors at the helm, agencies create a more amicable transition for these new managers. Creating as smooth a transition as possible as we employ the next generation of public servants must remain a top priority for the 111th Congress and beyond. The mentor also benefits through this relationship as well, learning about the generational differences between individuals in the workforce and how to adapt management strategies to acquire the greatest output from his or her employees. As in the supervisor to employee mentoring relationship, the mentor in the supervisor to supervisor program also gains a greater understanding of supervisory obstacles and challenges while sharpening his or her leadership skills. Again, a balance must be struck between formal and informal mentoring on this level. As OPM notes in the agency’s 2008 mentoring best practices guide, mentoring programs fail when proper investments are not made. An understanding of expectations, leadership involvement, ample planning, and thorough implementation are all chief to mentoring success.

    Conclusion We find ourselves today in prime position to tackle the challenges posed by a wave of retirement and the need to replenish the supervisory ranks in the federal government. Failure to act will severely impede the federal government’s ability to provide the American public with a top-notch workforce able to provide the needed services on which millions of taxpayers rely. We must work together now to ensure the federal government’s greatest asset, the men and women of the civil service, are equipped with the tools to succeed. For federal managers and supervisors, training stands at the forefront of their requirements to ensure they lead an efficient and effective workforce that is prepared to confront the obstacles at hand and those that lie on the horizon. To this end, it is imperative that Members of Congress recognize the Federal Supervisor Training Act as a crucial legislative measure designed to ultimately provide the American public with a quality public labor force. Each provision contained in S. 674 directly contributes to Congress’ effort to preserve the welfare of the nation through the creation of federal programs managed by a proficient workforce. We look forward to greater discussion of this legislation, and thank you again for the opportunity to express our views before the Subcommittee.


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