February 24, 2024


Science It Works

How Robert Buggs Is Transforming the Civil Service at the Department of Education

Robert Buggs currently serves as the Chief Human Capital Officer in the Department of Education, a post he took up in November 2009. His energies today are primarily focused on the wide range of operations involved with human capital planning and human resources. This includes areas such as learning, education, management and labor relations, and human resources information services.

Buggs has spearheaded several initiatives that will prove essential in the difficult economic climate. At a time when human capital management and human resources personnel are being required to do more with less, he has played a key role in reassessing how to maintain or improve the engagement of employees and maintain or improve their performance, in spite of significant budget cuts and RIFs.

One of the greatest challenges that the twenty-first century presents to all governmental departments is how to maintain organizational excellence when resources are increasingly under pressure. Despite the slowing of the US economy and tighter federal budgets, the workforce in the Department of Education has remained stable in size – in fact, the agency has increased its number of employees, and plans to continue this expansion into the future. Two main reasons for this growth are dramatic improvements that have been made to training processes and to measures to ensure employee retention. By focusing on retention rates, restructuring training programmes and speeding up the hiring process, the department has saved millions of dollars and built up its workforce organically. Following the President’s executive order for streamlining processes of hiring, the department averages 85 days for processing and hiring. In 2011, the department hired over 600 people, and Robert Buggs anticipates that a further 350 will be hired in 2012, most of them in the program offices.

Robert Buggs has also recognized the importance of top-down innovation, led from the highest levels of government. This concerns the behaviors of those in government leadership roles, and how the behaviors exhibited can promote innovation at lower levels, despite challenging economic conditions. Buggs is concerned with effecting a transformation of culture within the Department of Education, and has invested more than $300 million in a new training agenda based around core ‘competencies’, which uses a series of pre-testing exercises to assess the skills of employees and give key insights into areas of improvement needed. Hiring managers are also taking a considerably more active role in key employment decisions, reducing the powers of HR to enable hiring managers to make the right selection.