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6 Ways Research Can Empower the Federal Workforce Reporting from the 2016 OPM Research Summit

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At 2 million strong, the federal workforce is bigger than nearly all Fortune 500 companies. It not only has the power to shutdown Washington, D.C., on a holiday, but it is responsible for managing many aspects of the ways Americans live day to day. With this many employees, how can government ensure the best available research is driving human resource and operation policies for this important sector?

"The power of human capital cannot be underestimated,” said Vicky Wilkins, Associate Dean of American University’s School of Public Affairs. “We need a vigorous research agenda to shape the federal workforce for years to come."

On March 8th and 9th, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and American University’s School of Public Affairs (SPA) held the 2016 OPM Research Summit, bringing together 150 academic researchers, federal practitioners, and industry partners from 19 different universities and 20 federal agencies to exchange ideas, collaborate, and discuss research and pressing policy issues. It’s a high priority for OPM, which is exploring new ways to let data drive its policies, and for SPA, which houses a number of experts in the field of public management.

The opening remarks from the event are available online. Here are six ideas explored at the 2016 OPM Research Summit:

1. Help Employees Find Better Work/Life Balance
"Research can help us understand how to provide the flexibility of telework while not losing the human connection to the workplace," said OPM Acting Director, Beth Cobert, who welcomed attendees to the event. "I certainly appreciate and think about our ability to use telework when I’m on the phone at 3 a.m. during a snowstorm deciding how to balance the need to keep the government running with the need to keep people safe."

2. Better Explain and Present Federal Benefits
"Research tells us that the choices employees make about health plans are affected not only by the quality of the information but how user-friendly the presentation is," said Cobert.

3. Have the Best Tools Available for Performance Management
"By making sure that our human resources policies are informed by the most rigorous and up-to-date research, OPM can design more effective human resources policies and help the federal government move to the forefront as an employer of choice,” said Cobert.

4. Use Research to Drive Better Leadership Strategies
“While leaders’ competencies haven’t changed a lot, leadership environment has,” said speaker, Kris van Riper, Managing Director for Government, Corporate Executive Board.

5. Keep Employees in Focus
“The great struggle that federal government workers face is translating research into policy,” said speaker Maya Shankar, Senior Advisor for the Social and Behavioral Sciences at The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

6. Ensure Diversity and Inclusion
“In a few short decades, our country will no longer have the diversity gaps of today. Attention to hiring and inclusion can ensure the federal government’s workforce is as diverse as the people it represents,” said Wilkins.

The ultimate goal is to produce a research agenda to guide future studies and policy. The School of Public Affairs will continue to report out as progress continues.