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Demands of Information Revolution Will Kill 20th Century Dinosaurs

Speech by Janice Lachance, Director,
Office of Personnel Management

1999 US Air Force Civilian Personnel Workshop

October 13, 1999

Your theme is a very appropriate one: "Today's Challenges, Tomorrow's Vision," because we have spent so much time getting ready for the new millennium that we may have lost sight of the fact that we are already in the midst of a time of dramatic change.

How we lead this change will mean the difference between success and failure as a Federal workforce.

People talk all the time about the impact of this change on our workforce and our society. I am here to tell you that the impact is already being felt - it is real, it is significant, and for those caught unaware, it will be catastrophic.

Lately, I have been talking about something that I call the "Dinosaur Killer" - and no I'm not talking about some giant asteroid striking the planet, as recent movies have suggested.

Instead, I am talking about an overwhelming, unavoidable force of nature that is changing the climate of the world's workforce and ushering in a new age - this time we are calling the Dinosaur Killer by the name of "The Information Revolution."

More and more information is becoming available to an ever expanding number of people around the world at an ever increasing pace. New technologies, new work environments, new needs for skills and learning, all these changes are having a deep impact, at work and at home, in societies around the globe.

And rest assured, the demands of the Information Revolution will kill our 20th century dinosaurs - those organizations that cannot, or will not, adapt to the new global realities of the next millennium.

At OPM, we have been working hard to fight off the Dinosaur Killer by anticipating the specific nature of work and the workforce of the 21st century, and by seeing what OPM can do now to create and sustain learning environments.

We already see the trends for the next millennium. And the theme is "Adapt or be pushed aside."

Organizations are already learning that they must adapt to changing missions and become more diverse and more flexible.

In the years ahead, organizations will no longer have a permanent workforce, or even a temporary workforce, instead they will have what I call a "situational workforce." Needed work will be done by a blend of core employees in cross-functional teams and by temporary employees, consultants, and contractors, when necessary.

Full-time, lifelong jobs and job descriptions are already disappearing, and instead, employees are increasingly being called upon to be generalists - omnivores in the new world order, with the tools to survive and flourish at many different tasks and in many different environments.

Fewer jobs will fit into a neat job description. And our core government employees will be called upon to perform one role today and another tomorrow.

Obviously, this has significant implications for how skills are valued, how salaries are set, how performance is evaluated, and how learning needs are assessed and met.

Organizations will have to look at the bottom line and weigh the cost of investing in specialists who can only do one thing very well, versus the benefit of using generalists who can perform multiple tasks and who are adaptable to changing organizational needs.

The way work is organized is also being affected by the speed of change. Work processes are increasingly driven by what employees know - that is to say, how the work is done is increasingly dependent upon the level of knowledge the employee brings to the job.

The more knowledgeable an employee is across disciplines, the better job she or he can do, and the more valuable she or he becomes.

The result of this trend is that the distinction between working and learning is becoming blurred - part of every employee's job will be to keep learning about the ever-changing work to be performed. The Clinton/Gore Administration realizes this, and has made lifelong learning a priority in its efforts to improve the Federal workplace.

Another trend we see is that Federal Government operations and decision-making authority will continue to be decentralized.

For example, we are working to promote partnership and empower front-line employees to give them a greater say in problem-solving and workforce improvements.

We must find ways to promote the potential of our employees - making them more knowledgeable, more adaptable, and better able to meet changing needs.

The fact is, I remain committed to developing the full potential of our current workforce. It is good for the employees, good for morale, and good for the bottom line.

Another change we will see is that Federal agencies will shift from the hierarchical, Industrial Era structures that we are familiar with to "inter-networked" structures that improve and integrate service delivery and improve the design of government.

We are moving from the ponderous organizational dinosaurs of the 20th century to the fleet and nimble gazelles of the 21st. In the military, this is being seen not only in a new emphasis on more mobile fighting forces and "Rapid Deployment Forces", but also in leaner organizational structures and simplified lines of communication.

Where and when work is accomplished will increasingly be driven by customer and employee needs. The growth in tele-commuting and working from home will continue. As well as expanding traditional work hours to meet the needs of our customers - customers who have their own work schedule and family obligations. As Department of Defense employees, this is not news to you - DOD is always ready anyway, 24 hours a day. Now the rest of us are learning what it's like to be on call 24-7!

Middle management will continue to experience shrinking ranks and changing roles. The manager's role will become more that of a leader, a coach, an enabler, and a teacher rather than a giver of assignments and evaluator of performance.

In other words, they either grow the wings they need to survive, or they will become extinct.

But, through all of this, we must ensure that we never as an organization lose sight of the people involved. The business of government is still the business of people helping people, after all.

With that said, let me offer some words of caution:

We have to guard against work being divided into smart jobs and dumb jobs, thus dividing the workforce and society into "haves" and "have nots."

We will have to cope with skill obsolescence that leads to job displacement and organizational restructuring.

Our increased capability to monitor employees by computer may erode their rights to privacy.

In addition, information technology also provides an example of a workforce learning need. Technology literacy is required in almost all occupations, and this constitutes a special challenge for us in keeping employees up-to-date on current applications.

In fact, for the individual, survival and success in the distributed, high tech workplace depends on her or his ability to learn, unlearn, and relearn.

That, in and of itself, is quite different from past workplace learning and development challenges.

Workers' values are also changing in America. Workers may be loyal to their profession, but as their employers become less loyal to them, they are also becoming far less loyal to the organizations they work in than they were a generation ago.

One element of this phenomena is that workers have come to expect that their employer should address their learning needs. And, they will choose those employers that provide them with the most educational opportunities.

Learning has become an economic and pocketbook issue for employees, and unions are increasingly interested in the training needs of employees.

These trends in the nature of work and in the workforce constitute significant challenges for workforce learning, development, and education.

So, you are probably asking yourselves, what is OPM doing to create and sustain a learning environment in the Federal Government?

Well, because learning and continuing education are so important today, OPM is encouraging federal agencies to increase their use of workforce planning. We want agencies to do a better job of forecasting skills changes and anticipating workforce trends and needs.

Agencies must use learning as a strategic management tool throughout the organization, and change how training and learning are managed in Federal agencies, so that training priorities are linked to performance objectives and training decisions are linked to performance development.

We are encouraging agencies to forge learning and performance development partnerships among various occupational groups, managers, employee representatives, and the human resource development community to develop resources and support for improved organizational performance.

We are also actively encouraging agencies to use technology in their training and organizational learning programs, and support Federal learning technology consortiums that effectively share resources.

And we are committed to providing lifelong learning for every Federal employee.

So, how do we plan to prepare Federal workers for the new millennium?

Well, as we look at the direction being provided by the Clinton/Gore Administration, we find confirmation that human resources development is the responsibility of the entire organization - and it is a lifelong process.

Two current Administration initiatives illustrate this point. Earlier this year, the President issued an Executive Order for the Heads of Executive Departments and Agencies, titled Using Technology to Improve Training Opportunities For Federal Government Employees.

Its purpose is to organize and promote the use of technology to enhance learning in the Federal Government. It establishes a Government-wide Task Force, which I chair, and a private sector Advisory Committee.

The Task Force is made up of Federal leaders who are working to craft recommendations on how we can effectively integrate technology into the training of the Federal workforce.

In July, I was very pleased to sign the Task Force's initial set of recommendations on Individual Learning Accounts for Federal employees, which were on a fast track. For those of you who haven't heard about Individual Learning Accounts, they are resources - either dollars or hours - set aside for individual employees to use for their professional development and learning.

Soon, we expect the President to endorse these recommendations, and we will work with a number of agencies to establish Individual Learning Account pilots. The results of these pilots will serve as the basis for OPM's government-wide guidance for agencies who choose to implement such accounts. We make our remaining recommendations to the President in July 2000.

To complement the work being done by the Task Force, the President also directed OPM to establish an Advisory Committee on Expanding Training Opportunities.

The Committee will be appointed by the President and will be made up of private sector representatives - from research, education, labor, training, and information technology.

They will make an independent assessment of how the Federal government is doing in integrating technology into training programs, how Federal Government programs, initiatives and policies can drive training technology so that all Americans have training opportunities, and how the Federal government can encourage private sector investment in the development and use of high-quality instructional software.

They will also look at what the Federal government's role should be in research and development for learning technologies; and what the options are for helping adult Americans finance the training and post-secondary education needed to upgrade skills and gain new knowledge.

WHETHER we invest in our employees is no longer a question. The question is HOW. One of the "best" right answers is: use technology to design, develop and deliver training government-wide.

The Task Force and Advisory Committee will give us a road map. All we will have to do is follow it.

This Task Force is a powerful example of our efforts to muster Federal resources and new instructional technologies to make education, at work and at home, easier and more convenient for the Federal workforce.

This Federal Learning Technology Strategy came out of the Vice President's Lifelong Learning Summit, which took place last January.

This event heralded a vision and call to action for lifelong learning for all Americans.

Vice President Gore told the group, "Realizing our potential will require investing in education and learning for all of our people throughout their lifetimes."

So, we must ensure that the Federal government's policies regarding employee training apply to every employee. And I believe we are on the right track.

This Administration also understands that cooperation between labor and management can be a powerful vehicle for improving the performance of government. At agencies like the U.S. Mint, the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Social Security Administration, and the Customs Service, partnerships between labor and management are saving millions of taxpayer dollars and dramatically improving the delivery of service.

That's what the President's Executive Order on partnership is all about: labor and management working together to make the government work better for the American people.

As the Administration looks to renew its commitment to partnership, OPM is eager to play a strong leadership role. We will do everything we can to help agencies and unions find better, more effective ways of conducting business. Building successful partnerships is not easy, but training, education, and facilitation can make all the difference in the world, and OPM will work hard to make sure that agencies and unions get the resources they need to succeed.

I continue to believe that unions and agencies have a common interest in delivering the best possible service to the American people, and OPM will do its very best to help stimulate the creation of true workplace partnerships where that can be achieved.

As the Federal workplace changes, OPM is responding with new tools and strategies to provide agency managers with greater flexibilities for recruitment, performance management, and retention tools.

We have been working hard to provide those tools over the last decade. We have introduced many changes that have made a real difference in these areas. For example, the delegation of examining to agencies, an automated data base of all government jobs that is open around the clock, and a flexible framework for performance appraisal that supports individuals and teams.

But our job is not done. We need more tools and strategies that meet the challenges of today's workplace.

At the beginning of this year, Vice President Gore announced his commitment to civil service improvements at the Global Forum on Reinventing Government. The essential components of these improvements are twofold.

First, we must have flexible performance and pay systems that support high performance, and encourage employees to do their best;

And, second, we have to be able to create flexible recruitment and hiring systems that permit alternative selection procedures, authorize agencies to make direct job offers in critical areas - like information technology - and permit use of non-permanent employees, with appropriate benefits, to expedite adapting to workload and mission shifts.

For the most part, these improvements are offered as options to agencies. Working with their employees, agencies can choose which new tools and strategies best fit their needs.

Many of these have been tested and found to be effective in demonstration projects and in the private sector. It is time that they were made available to all Federal managers.

Of course, each new tool or strategy is designed to work in the context of our merit principles, so that agencies can continue to ensure that the very best workers are hired, rewarded, and retained.

Along with these proposed flexibilities for managers to select and manage the high quality, diverse workforce they need, we are also introducing real accountability.

This accountability translates into more emphasis on performance measurement, and ultimately, it also translates to improved recognition and rewards.

Let me be frank. All stakeholders have an equal stake in embracing these changes in the civil service. I can assure you that the merit system will remain the basis of all our improvements, but we cannot be afraid to try new things and experiment with new processes.

One of our challenges is to assist each stakeholder to confront their apprehensions and embrace the opportunities that this package offers. It is up to us to change the way we do business, and the reap the improvements in service that will follow.

We must embrace increased partnership as a means of accomplishing these changes. With partnership comes more creativity and productivity, and ultimately, better service to the public.

So, building consensus is essential to the success of our civil service improvement efforts. We have pledged to move forward together. That means the process takes longer, but we intend to carry on the process as long as it takes.

Our mission is too important, our opportunities to great, to accept anything less than constructive engagement and cooperation.

Now, let me talk to you briefly about some of the more concrete changes that we have been championing recently.

First and foremost, OPM has been aggressively leading efforts to assure that FEHB plans fully adopt the Patients' Bill of Rights. In 1999, we took a number of steps to ensure that the members of the Federal community were covered by these important protections.

These measures are incorporated into every plan in the program. So, the good news is that employee's and retiree's access to specialists, emergency room care and information about care and treatment is better now than it was just last year.

We are also ensuring that participants will receive up to 90 days of transitional care from their specialist for treatment of chronic or disabling conditions in the event that they have to change health plans.

Another important improvement is that all of the plans must establish procedures to allow patients to review and obtain copies of their own personal medical records.

Now, I know you have all heard that premiums will be increasing again this year. Let me say now, and for the record, that these increases were not caused by the provisions of the Patients Bill of Rights. In fact, in spite of all the concerns to the contrary, the cost of adding this important array of protections to our already-great program will be less than $10 per year for each policyholder.

Personally and professionally, I find these increases to be completely unacceptable, even if they are the same kind of increases as private sector employees are facing. And, I give you my personal commitment that I intend to correct this situation. The Federal government is a very large a health care pool - we ought to be able to leverage that into better rates for our Federal community!

And speaking of health care, OPM has been working to make long-term care insurance available for Federal employees, annuitants, and their respective families, including parents and parents-in-law - in short, for the people we love.

Under the Administration's proposal, OPM would have the authority to design a long-term care insurance package that is competitive with industry standards. And I promise you this, it will be a package that offers an array of long-term care services to meet the needs of the broadest population possible.

Our proposal would also provide the flexibility to contract for benefits with one or more private carriers, basically the way it works with the FEHBP and the Life Insurance Program.

This means that it would provide the flexibility we must have if we are to obtain the best value for the entire Federal family. And I can promise you that we will ensure that contracts are awarded the right way - solely on the basis of contractor qualifications, price, and reasonable competition.

This insurance would be available at group rates expected to be 15 to 20 percent lower than individual rates available in today's market. It will be a very good deal indeed.

Many of you may know that there are other proposals to provide long term care for Federal employees. OPM has been working with members of Congress and their staff to develop a compromise. The good news is that everyone wants long term care - so I am cautiously optimistic.

Now, once a bill is passed, OPM intends to run an educational campaign about it. We want to make sure that those offered this opportunity have all the information they need about long-term care insurance so they will sign up early, and we want to solicit and fully evaluate potential insurers as early in the process as possible. Then, we intend to hold an open enrollment for all eligible participants - including retirees. So, keep your fingers crossed!

OPM has been moving forward on other fronts as well. For example, if you have not already heard the great news, the Treasury and General Government Appropriations Act that the President signed into law on September 29th included several provisions of interest to Federal workers.

The one I know you already know about is the provision that calls for an overall pay increase of 4.8 percent for most Federal employees in January 2000.

This will be the largest overall Federal pay increase since 1981 - almost 20 years ago!

We anticipate that the 4.8 percent overall pay increase will be split between an across-the-board pay increase that will be applied to the basic General Schedule, and locality pay increases that will vary from one locality pay area to another.

Final decisions on the allocation of the overall pay increase and the distribution of locality pay increases among locality pay areas will be made later this year, when the President issues his Executive order on the January 2000 pay increase.

Another major success has to do with child care. As we all know, our fast-paced modern society has forced more and more parents to rely on some type of child care to balance the demands of the workplace with the needs of the family.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that, in 1997, over 29 million U.S. families, that's 41 percent, had children under the age of 14. For more than half of these families, either both parents worked, or the family was headed by a single working parent.

In fact, three out of five mothers with children under age six work outside the home.

And today's more mobile society also means that working parents are far less likely to live near their extended family, the network of relatives who assisted in child rearing in simpler times. Some form of child care has to take up the slack.

Here is the challenge: affordable, quality child care is hard to find. Parents are often forced to accept expensive or poor quality care, or no care at all. We must identify the competing factors that are critical to financing good child care. Clearly, these factors include the quality of services provided to children, the affordability for parents, and fair compensation for child care providers.

All of these issues must be addressed, and they must be addressed now.

So, the Administration worked to get a provision in the Treasury and General Government Appropriations Act calling for expanded child care subsidies. With the President's signing of this Act, Federal agencies will now be able to use appropriated funds - otherwise available for salaries and expenses - to make safer, loving child care more affordable for an additional one million children in low income families.

This is a significant milestone since, for the first time, lower income Federal families will find some financial relief to the ever-increasing costs of child care.

That is our goal for every family-friendly initiative that OPM sponsors, and it ought to be the goal for every employer in the country.

Another piece of good news to coming out of this law is the permanent renewal of the Voluntary Early Retirement Authority, or VERA program. In a nutshell, an important provision of the Early Out authority was set to expire on September 30th - the provision that allows agencies to target early outs by organization, grades, or series.

If this authority had lapsed, it would have seriously affected agencies' ability to use early retirements as an effective tool for managing major reorganizations, reductions in force, or transfers of function.

Instead, with the President's signing of this Act, the VERA program is back on track and the flexibilities I highlighted are now permanently in law!

And, OPM immediately began approving new agency VERA requests for FY 2000. In fact, we've already approved 10 requests, most of them within 48 hours of receiving them! So we are very pleased to be able to continue to use this important workforce restructuring tool.

We have also extended for another two years the highly effective and successful career transition programs to assist Federal employees affected by downsizing.

This includes the Interagency Career Transition Assistance Plan (ICTAP) which gives separated employees selection priority for jobs in other Federal agencies. These programs not only help employees continue their Federal careers, they also benefits agencies, which get the experienced and well-qualified employees they require in this tight job market.

Now, in your case, as civilian Air Force employees, I know that you have access to DOD's own internal placement program, the Priority Placement Program (PPP or "Stopper List") to be placed in other DOD activities if your job is eliminated. But affected DOD employees not placed through the PPP can exercise their right to selection priority under the ICTAP to find jobs in non-DOD agencies, so this two year extension is to your advantage as well.

And, when President Clinton signed the National Defense Authorization Act on October 5th, he authorized the repeal of the reductions in retired or retainer pay previously required of retired members of a uniformed service currently employed in civilian Federal positions.

The repeal, effective retroactively to October 1st , ends two former reductions in military retired pay required on some Federal employees.

First, it eliminates the "double-dipping" pay cap that limited the combined total of Federal civilian basic salary plus military retired pay to $110,700 for all Federal employees who are retirees of a uniformed service.

And, second, it removed the partial reduction in retired pay required of retired officers of a regular component of a uniformed service.

So, no longer are we punishing retired members of the military for their desire to continue their productive service to our nation as members of the Federal community.

Now, as you all know, there has been a great deal of talk about the Y2K bug and how it will affect the Federal government.

We have already identified and assessed all of OPM's mission-critical systems, and I am proud to announce that we are now 100 percent Y2K OK.

And, to make sure we are fully prepared for anything, we have a senior level working group developing contingency plans, executing tests, and conducting rehearsals.

No matter what, I assure you that OPM will be ready when the clock turns to January 1, 2000.

So there it is - a broad overview of where we are at and where we hope to go. Not necessarily from "A" to "Z", but rather from "A" to "Y2K".

I realize that we cannot anticipate every change the future holds, but I also know that by emphasizing adaptability and innovation, we will be better able to adjust to any surprises the future may hold for us.

At OPM, we are not afraid to try new things and experiment with new processes. I encourage you to do the same.

It's a new era. It's already begun. The Dinosaur Killer is here. So, I have one simple piece of advice for you - don't be a dinosaur. Be nimble. Adapt. Don't be afraid to change. In the long run, it is not only in the government's best interest, it is in your best interest.

I look forward to continuing to share ideas and innovations with you, as we each create a new, more global workforce - built on the lessons of the past, the innovations of the present, and the needs of the future - to help our government move successfully into the 21st century.

Thank you.

Are there any questions?

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