Pick an outsourcing model that fits your needs

When it comes to outsourcing human resources work, government agencies have several options.

There is contracting for strategic help, in planning work force management.

There is contracting for specific services, such as application management, in a model that is known in the commercial sector as business process outsourcing, or BPO.

And there is the end-to-end approach, covering everything from recruitment to retirement services. Several agencies are reportedly considering such an arrangement, although no deals have been announced.

The Fish and Wildlife Service chose the first method when it came time to reassess how it manages employees.

Unique problems

In the case of FWS, it was a proactive more than reactive step. 'We're one of the few agencies that doesn't have a retirement problem,' said Susan Redman, chief of the Workforce Management Branch of the agency's Human Resources Division. She said FWS has a relatively young work force and its employees tend to stay longer than the federal average.

But with about 9,000 permanent employees spread out in nearly 800 field offices, the agency has some unique management problems. FWS hired Federal Management Partners Inc. of Alexandria, Va., to 'provide us expertise on managing our work force,' Redman said.

Among its services, FMP conducted a technical-skills assessment and gathered other data via an online survey of employees'while retirement wasn't a looming problem, Redman said, retention issues had to be addressed'and did an analysis of the agency's software, said Fred Mills, a principal consultant with FMP. The company then developed a plan for overhauling the agency's approach.

FWS' approach to this outsourcing arrangement was as a one-time thing. 'We did this as a task, for a particular project,' Redman said. The process was broken down into two parts: first, the planning and second, 'putting in place a permanent process to do it yourself.'

But hiring a consultant saved time, she said. 'They could have done it themselves,' Mills agreed, 'but it would have taken longer and the learning curve would have been steeper.' And it left FWS with a program that it will run itself.

A BPO arrangement, under which an agency contracts out specific functions that are not part of its core IT mission, represents a further step in outsourcing that's still short of turning over the whole operation.

'BPO gets to the notion of what government should be doing,' said Lisa Mascolo, the director of USA government outsourcing for Accenture LLP of Chicago. Accenture has that type of outsourcing contract with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to oversee that agency's HR application management.

More BPO

With government agencies facing budget constraints coupled with a push to focus on mission-critical functions, Mascolo said she sees a trend developing toward BPO, including HR work. She said government outsources a lot of application management now, and that agencies could soon do the same with the more nuts-and-bolts aspects of such things as recruiting, employee services and retirement systems.

Outsourcing of end-to-end HR services would be the next big step for agencies. The Transportation Security Administration is a likely candidate to lead the way, since it is taking an outsourcing approach to all managed services, but no contract had been announced at press time.

About the Author

Kevin McCaney is a former editor of Defense Systems and GCN.

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