Strategic (sic) Management

Incompetence1

We’ve blogged before about employees ranking the Forest Service as one of the worst places in federal government to work. That discussion focused on senior leadership, which ranks 274th out of 290 agencies evaluated.

But, there is one category that ranks even lower. When it comes to “Strategic Management,” Forest Service workers score their agency 286th. Only the benighted Transportation Security Administration, the Cold War relic Voice of America, the 200 obviously disgruntled employees at the Office of Post-secondary Education, and HUD’s apparently clueless Office of Chief Information Officer rank below the Forest Service when it comes to strategic management.

So what does the survey mean by “strategic management?” The survey says it “measures the extent to which employees believe that management ensures they have the necessary skills and abilities to do their jobs, is successful at hiring new employees with the necessary skills to help the organization, and works to achieve the organizational goals with targeted personnel strategies and performance management.” In other words, strategic management is all about Human Resources.

Consider Avue. Avue is a privately-owned subsidiary of Carahsoft Technology Corporation whose gig is leasing computer-based human resource “solutions” to government agencies. In 2005, the Forest Service entered into a contract with Avue to subscribe to its “ADS Modules.” The ADS Modules wrote job announcements and position descriptions. When a Forest Service office wanted to hire a seasonal firefighter, for example, its HR staff would turn to the on-line Avue database to create the job advertisement and when the FS hired the employee, Avue would print out the worker’s duties.

FS employee antipathy towards Avue is exemplified by this comment on a firefighter website.

HALLELUJAH!!!!! The end of AVUE is coming soon!!! Lets do this RIGHT Forest Service! To be honest, if we were required to use a 1972 typewriter and mail the application on one of those Wells Fargo stagecoaches, that would be better than AVUE. Anything would be better than AVUE.

Between 2005 and 2011, the Forest Service paid Avue over $34 million for this service (2.7 MB pdf). Last year, the Forest Service decided not to renew its contract with Avue and return the work of job recruitment and position description writing to government employees.

So, just another example of Bush-era outsourcing that didn’t work so well. But, wait, there’s more.

It turns out that the Forest Service has to re-write position descriptions for its 40,000 employees because the FS doesn’t actually own any of the PDs written during the Avue era. What the Forest Service bought for its $34 million was a subscription license to use Avue output during the contract period only. Avue retains title to the position descriptions themselves and the license agreement bars the Forest Service from using any of the PD content for any purpose, including to crib from while writing its new PDs.

Even more galling is that most of the content of each PD was input originally into the Avue system by Forest Service employees using their pre-Avue PDs. The Forest Service is not allowed use of this original source data either, having forfeited its ownership when it entered the data into the Avue system.

5 Comments

  1. Wow. Stupid. I hate AVUE and USA job isn’t much better. And sometimes personnel officers haven’t a clue what they are doing. I have been trying to get a job with the USFS for sometime now. I worked for them as a seasonal employee for six years but couldn’t get anything permanent. I have tons of the strangest stories you could imagine from my time with the USFS (Alaska and the PNW) but I also did some amazing work, saw some amazing places, and met some very nice people.

  2. Andy,

    I have some thoughts…in addition to my general management principle.

    “If it looks like a Dilbert cartoon, it’s probably not good management.”

    First, as you quoted,strategic management

    measures the extent to which employees believe that management ensures they have the necessary skills and abilities to do their jobs, is successful at hiring new employees with the necessary skills to help the organization, and works to achieve the organizational goals with targeted personnel strategies and performance management.”

    I would be interested in seeing the actual questions and responses. Because one could imagine a variety of issues (including heavy-handed diversity efforts) that could lead to bad marks from employees. Let me see if we can get those.

    Second, AVUE has always been a disaster from day 1. The question to me is “why would a system that tortures employees and applicants be allowed to continue?” and ” where does the person responsible stand up and say ” I have listened to you employees and we can’t change because a) we made a bad decision and would lose money b) the Dept. told us to, and we work for them, or c) if we don’t do it we won’t pass our audit or …”. I think a great deal of the problem is that when things are screwed up, it goes into some morass of operations unknowing where no one knows and no one is responsible.

    Let’s just do a thought experiment. Suppose a new engine was designed for firefighting that didn’t work and the agency bought 30,000 of them. There would be an investigation and the reasons understood and the problem fixed. Somehow IMHO, FS operation has become a no-person’s land of management where all complaints go into the fuzz-o-sphere and nothing is ever resolved.

    The Forest Service was also responsible for Paycheck 8. I liked everything about it, it worked great, the developers came out and clearly listened to people and made a good product better. Same thing about PALS. Clearly the FS can do it, the question is “why are there serious screw-ups sometimes and why don’t they get fixed?”

    If management manages these things (and by management I mean people outside the administration silo) then management needs a separate panel of advisors to listen to users and propose solutions or to carry back the true story of why not.

    In my mind, the fuzz-o-sphere is a serious part of the problem both in HR and more generally.

    Third, if some people wonder why feds are so slow to accept new technologies and ideas, I had carefully filed pre- AVUE PDs that would now come in very handy if I were still working. People are that way because lots of time, it’s an effective strategy.

  3. Good riddance to the AVUE-era position descriptions and the boilerplate-trash that spawned them. We need position descriptions that actually describe positions, and coherent interview questions. I don’t think that is too much to ask of managers/HR.

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