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ATD Blog

How We Can Modernize the Federal Workforce

Monday, November 13, 2023

The effectiveness and efficiency of government workers affects each of us in small ways every day. While high-level decisions from Congress, the President, or governors’ offices may set the direction of our country, the day-to-day interpretation of those laws and the lower-level implementation of those policies have an outsized influence on their practical outcomes. More than that, we live in volatile and complex times. The government plays a unique role in our collective stability and security—whether from military adversaries, cyber criminals, natural disasters, or other unexpected threats.

Simultaneously, the government is struggling to enable optimal performance from current personnel, with recent surveys showing that less than half of workers are contributing to their maximum capability. In ATD’s ebook, Modernizing the Federal Workforce, we’ve gathered a group of workforce development experts to discuss these challenges and outline recommendations for how we can modernize the federal workforce.

The framework presented below provides measures agencies can employ to help modernize the federal workforce. By focusing on these key areas, professionals working in the government workforce can not only better monitor change management but also escalate hiring and enhance talent development efforts in government agencies to ensure they keep up with the fast-paced evolution happening globally.

Recommendations for Modernizing the Federal Workforce

Instantiate a personnel data highway: The personnel data highway will facilitate a scalable and interoperable system for collecting, storing, and analyzing people-related data. Serving as the technical backbone for large-scale people analytics, it requires investments in data instrumentation, collection methods, management infrastructure, and interoperable systems. This open-systems architecture, including linked data repositories and decentralized solutions, promises substantial rewards such as improved decision-making, optimized workforce performance, and enhanced talent management. Embracing this approach empowers government agencies to leverage data-driven insights, fostering transformative change and better public service.

Create diverse work and developmental pathways: The evolving work landscape, accelerated by the pandemic, challenges traditional structures. The shift to remote work not only offers flexibility but also transforms how individuals perceive work, intertwining it with personal lives. The new generation values personal growth and experiences in addition to income. American workers seek diverse options, avoiding rigid roles and long-term commitments. This chapter explores federal strategies to support flexibility, career growth, and an enriched work-life experience.


Develop policy that supports every layer required for modernization efforts to be effective: It is essential to understand how policy decisions influence improvements in training and education. This knowledge will better equip those who facilitate learning to navigate the evolving educational landscape and contribute to the success of their organization.

Reimagine workplace design and location: Design workspaces with a human-centered approach, considering organizational needs, human desires, and technological feasibility. Prioritize delivering human services, building high-performing teams, and fostering innovation and improvement.

Involve industry in modernization efforts: Research shows that the silos and boundaries between the government and private sector are increasingly dissolving in service of results. Through constructive dialogue and collaboration, the government can outline its challenges while industry offers insights, innovations, and emerging technologies. By pooling resources and combining actions, they can work together to implement a sustainable yet agile workforce development ecosystem. The path forward lies in establishing communication channels, joint partnerships, and cooperation to define an ecosystem that meets the current and future needs of the government workforce. This begins with a strategy that defines the elements linked to the future of work and government. The industry’s role is to assist the government as it implements resilient sustainable solutions that yield higher quality and better economic value.


Focus on skills-based hiring: A more to a more skills-based qualification standard will increase the talent pool and ensure today’s hires can perform the work regardless of binary credentials. Using subject matter experts to properly design assessments will also produce better final candidates.

Ensure training and talent professionals are prepared to meet workforce development needs: Training and talent development are essential to ensuring the workforce stays. ATD’s Talent Development Capability Model provides a research-based framework that outlines what training and talent professionals need to know and do to be successful in their roles.

The above was adapted from Modernizing the Federal Workforce, ATD Press, 2023. The ebook is available for free.

About the Author

Dr. J.J. Walcutt is a scientist, innovator, and learning engineer that specializes in talent development and strategic reform across education, military, and government. She served in the U.S. government as the director of innovation at the Advanced Distributed Learning Initiative under the Office of the Secretary of Defense and as a Human Innovation Fellow under the Office of Personnel Management. During her tenure in the government, she helped define the interoperable digital backbone required for training, education, and talent development across the military, intelligence, and greater security sector. She also designed an open innovation model for re-imagining the executive branch to promote talent development and retention. In her role at the Pentagon, Walcutt focused on promoting the science of learning through her service as a U.S. Delegate to NATO, Partnership for Peace, and as a national and international keynote speaker. In her role as a human innovation fellow, she used the science of human centered design to recommend improved governmental communication structures with the American people to promote innovative problem solving. In this role, she provided keynote speeches nationally regarding innovation across, and transformation of, the federal government. Walcutt has over 20 years of experience in research and development for training and education with specific interests in improving educational systems to promote talent development, knowledge management, and decision making under stress.

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