ATD Blog

Leveling Up All Government Employees to Achieve Mission Success

Friday, August 23, 2019

Career civil servants are the government’s best and most important asset. The fact that an organization’s people are key to its success is no different in government than in any other sector. Government employees’ dedication to their mission is the envy of all other employers.

Yet the government’s failure to cultivate and develop leaders and employees at every level has resulted in a massive waste of taxpayer dollars and continually risks mission accomplishment. Employees—even the best ones—also become disengaged and demoralized. In fact, more than half of the Government Accountability Office’s (GAO) High Risk List is underpinned by human capital and talent management challenges. It is likely the government squanders well over $1 trillion annually in mission mis-delivery from poor human capital management.

A study published earlier this year, Are Declines in U.S. Federal Workforce Capabilities Putting Our Government at Risk of Failing?, concluded that inattention to developing and cultivating the federal government’s workforce over the past two decades was putting the entire government—and the country—at risk of catastrophic systematic failure.

Is this a hopeless situation?

Granted, the government is a bureaucracy but so is any large organization. Just because employees work in a bureaucracy does not mean they need to adhere to or be constrained by a bureaucratic, fixed mindset. The same way work was accomplished 20 years ago is not the most efficient and effective way to accomplish work in 2019. Sometimes the rules no longer make sense and need to be updated or thrown out.

The solution to this problem is to cultivate a growth mindset within the government workforce, which is where talent development professionals and all leaders are obligated to come together.


Nearly all federal employees are professional employees. There are actually few bureaucrats still working for government. We have engineers, lawyers, doctors, accountants, scientists. . . . You name it, the government probably employs professionals in that domain.

Professions adhere to common standards, share common values, and require continuous professional development to keep practitioners abreast of developments in their field. We need to leverage this philosophy to transform the same mindset of government employees.

Sadly, too few government employees believe they can be the masters of their own destiny and create the future they desire. They too frequently receive inadequate assistance and support from their employer and managers to grow anywhere beyond their current job series or ladder.


That must change. What’s more, dedicated public servants need to be the ones to demand and drive that change. Waiting for the perfect policy prescription from Congress or an administration to lead the charge will only result in more waiting. The American people are demanding a better government, so let’s work together to create it for them.

I am excited about ATD’s Government Workforce Learning Innovations Training Summit on September 12, 2019, in Washington, D.C. The program, which focuses on leadership, engagement, and learning and development innovations, is specifically action oriented to empower attendees to walk away with tangible insights, resources, and expanded networks.

Together we can overcome the fixed mindset of the bureaucracy by inspiring government employees to empower themselves and take their teams to the next level.

About the Author

Jason Briefel is executive director of the Senior Executives Association, overseeing its day-to-day operations and leading execution of the priorities and policies of the board of directors. He leads strategic engagement efforts with members of SEA’s Corporate Advisory Council and other organizations. Briefel served as SEA interim president from February to September 2016. Additionally, he serves as SEA’s legislative director, representing the association on Capitol Hill and with the administration.

Briefel also is the director of government affairs at Shaw Bransford & Roth. He joined the firm’s government affairs practice in 2012. He provides legislative and organizational representation to clients of the firm’s government affairs practice, as well as conducting nonlegal research for law firm clients as necessary.

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