SPPD Helps Shape Office of Personnel Management Regulations

By Matthew Kredell

SPPD Dean Jack Knott Dean Knott was instrumental in calling for reform of federal hiring through his role as chair of NASPAA’s policy issues committee
Photo by Huang Shi-Jun

USC School of Policy, Planning, and Development faculty, staff and graduate students took part in a focus-group discussion of proposed regulations for President Barack Obama’s executive order to reform student pathways into government.

The event took place on March 15 at the Los Angeles office of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

Two key members of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management – deputy director Christine Griffin and senior adviser to the director Matt Collier – came from Washington, D.C., to present the new Pathways Program for recruiting and hiring students and recent graduates into the federal government.

“I think we were able to get really valuable feedback, not only from potential interns and students, but more importantly from young folks who already are in the federal government in different internships,” Griffin said. “They gave us some thoughts about what we could and should focus on as we write and implement the regulations [for Obama’s executive order].”

Angela Huang, SPPD master of planning student and current federal intern, offered thoughts on her experience. Set to graduate in May, Huang would like to continue working for the federal government when her internship at HUD comes to an end.

“Having them come out here and tell us they are changing a lot of things makes me feel like there’s more hope in terms of working for the federal government and making it an enjoyable experience,” Huang said. “I like how they are opening up many more opportunities for recent graduates. I want to know what’s out there.”

The impending retirement of the baby boom generation provides added importance for the government to attract future leaders. The Office of Personnel Management projects that, within two years, more than 37 percent of management personnel in the federal workforce will become eligible for retirement.

Jack H. Knott, the C. Erwin and Ione L. Piper Dean of SPPD, played an integral part in calling for this reform of federal hiring in his role as chair of the policy issues committee for the National Association of Schools of Public Affairs and Administration.

“I think the involvement of the policy issues committee and Jack Knott’s leadership were critical to that executive order coming to be,” said Laurel McFarland, executive director of the association. “Jack Knott is an exceptionally articulate spokesman for this cause. He’s extremely persuasive and he’s done a public service that will benefit not only USC students but also students across the country.”

As chair of the National Association of Schools of Public Affairs and Administration committee, Knott contributed research and expertise for two policy papers that the association submitted to the Office of Personnel Management over the last 18 months, suggesting how to reform the Presidential Management Fellows program and the overall process of federal hiring.

Knott also met multiple times with Office of Personnel Management director John Berry to discuss reform ideas and strategies. In early March, Knott was a panelist at a forum co-hosted by the association and the National Academy of Public Administration on the Pathways Programs.

There will be three Pathways Programs: the Presidential Management Fellows program and government-wide internships and recent graduates programs. The Presidential Management Fellows program, the federal government’s flagship recruitment program for graduate students, will be strengthened over its current form, according to Collier.

Candidates will be notified of results earlier. In the past, many had to make decisions on offers from the private sector while still waiting to hear from the fellowship program. Fourteen SPPD students currently are semifinalists in the 2011 Presidential Management Fellows program.

While the new programs are not yet in place (regulations are expected to be finalized and go into effect later this year), the Office of Personnel Management came to Los Angeles as part of its drive to encourage the federal workforce to be more innovative and effective in how it serves the American public.

Berry said that the Office of Personnel Management is holding events like this “far outside the Washington Beltway” to seek out greater feedback from those impacted by its regulations. These discussions allow the Office of Personnel Management to encourage students and recent graduates to provide their input in the official comment process for the Pathways Programs, which will run through the Federal Register this spring.

“As a government, we have never done a systemic look at how we get students into federal government,” Griffin said. “How do we actually provide a pathway to students? We hadn’t looked at it in a long time in any comprehensive way. As we shape what we are going to do, it’s great to have that feedback now just so we hear what people are thinking.”