In this special two-part interview, Office of Personnel Management Deputy Director Michael Rigas discusses the implementation of the president’s recent workforce executive orders and the ways the federal government is looking to reward high performing employees.
The Office of Personnel Management released guidance last week on the president’s new workforce executive orders. These include data reporting requirements, deadlines, and restrictions on “official time.” Michael Rigas, deputy director of OPM, says that the executive orders are a reaction to employees not performing their work. “The guidance related to official time asks that agencies limit official time for employees to 25 percent of their duty time. We have numerous examples of federal employees, such as doctors and nurses at the VA, who are being paid by taxpayers to serve veterans at VA hospitals, who are on one hundred percent official union time,” said Rigas. “Meaning they are not serving time as doctors and nurses but spending their salary time on union business. This is what they are seeking to address.” Because of the extreme changes the orders make to collective bargaining rights, 15 federal employee unions are suing to prevent their implementation. While Rigas couldn’t comment directly on the legal actions, he said that the orders reflect the opinions of federal employees. “We are working with the agencies on these issues and with our own unions as well. In a lot of ways, these executive orders and the guidance we are offering are in response to what federal employees are telling us,” said Rigas. “The Office of Personnel Management conducts an annual survey called the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey and only 31 percent of federal employees responded by answering yes to the question ‘My agency or work unit effectively deals with employees who cannot or won’t perform their duties.’ That’s 69 percent of federal employees who couldn’t answer yes to that question. Even after these orders were issued, Government Executive did a poll which said that 51 percent of federal employees supported the executive order. There’s a need out there, and federal employees themselves recognize it, to reform the process.” Rigas told Government Matters that a priority for OPM is to start rewarding high performers in government. To accomplish that, he wants to utilize a proposed $1 billion workforce fund. “The workforce modernization fund provides agencies the opportunity to seek funds for reskilling federal employees, or rewarding high performing employees, or employees with high demand or critical skill sets,” said Rigas. “We see a lot of that in STEM areas; science, technology, engineering and math. Especially in cybersecurity… where the private sector can really out‑compete the federal government in terms of offering pay and resources for employees who have those skill sets. We want to make the federal government the employer of choice in these areas.”