In the dynamic world of Homeland Security, planning for and maintaining the right workforce presents a major imperative. For some insight and how they do it, Federal Drive with Tom Temin welcomed the Executive Director of Strategic Workforce Planning and Analysis at the Department of Homeland Security Kimya Lee.
Tom Temin: Dr. Lee, good to have you on.
Kimya Lee: Hello, I’m glad to be on. Thank you.
Tom Temin: And I guess one of the major methodologies or strategies that you use to evaluate and plan for the workforce is in the use of data and data analytics. Tell us why that is and how it generally works.
Kimya Lee: Great question. So I was having this conversation with a friend and they said, “Oh, the new buzzword is data literacy.” And at first, I was like, well, I don’t think it’s a buzzword. But after I got past that, you think about what that means. And so it is really about our ability to read, work with, analyze and communicate with data. At one point, it was expected of our analytic teams, our data scientists, our statisticians, our economists, within a federal government. But it is imperative that our workforce, across the board have some understanding of data, and how to communicate with data, and what it means, what questions to ask. And so as we build our workforce, even if you’re not in a traditional data space, having some understanding of data is so important. And we look for that, whether or not it is a nurse, whether or not it’s border patrol agents, if it’s PSO’s, if it’s policymakers – understanding data is such an important aspect of our job. Specifically within human capital.
Tom Temin: I was gonna say that applies to the human capital function and some of the HR functions themselves as well, correct?
Kimya Lee: That is definitely correct. It is critical to make the distinction between, like, data and analytics, right? So lots of agencies have data. We at Homeland Security have a tremendous amount of data. But the fact is, data is rendered meaningless if it’s not transformed by analytics into an actionable insight that can be used for our mission. So it doesn’t matter that we have volumes on top of volumes of data sitting there on our workforce. Until we use analytics, and transform that into insight, it is just a paperweight. And that’s what we have to do within a human capital space.
Tom Temin: I was gonna say that because of Homeland Security, diversity of missions, I mean it doesn’t really have one mission. It has 1,000 missions – the Coast Guard, FEMA, TSA, you look at all the components, and then break those down into the different bureaus and different activities. I would think the only way that headquarters can have any kind of handle on the workforce is through data and data analysis.
Kimya Lee: Yes. And it’s important to remember that this isn’t done in silos. Because at the end of the day, although our individual missions are slightly different, what’s important is understanding the workforce. For example, if we look at Border Patrol agents, and we realize that, and this is not a statistic. I’m just saying, in general, if you realize that, when it’s time for agents to retire, it usually take 1.5 years from when they become retirement eligible. However, when you look at another occupation series, or if you look at TSA, or even Flexi, you realize that individuals retire after becoming retirement eligible, maybe three years. That has a huge impact on succession planning, as well as the flow of your workforce. And so understanding those subtle differences is extremely important.
Tom Temin: We’re speaking with Dr. Kimya Lee, she’s the executive director of Strategic Workforce Planning and Analysis at the Homeland Security Department. And what about understanding the skills and abilities that the workforce has? Is there a database way of getting a picture of that?
Kimya Lee: This is where big data comes into play. This is where lots of models, algorithms, predictive analytics plays a huge part, because it is also not only knowing where your workforce is at this moment, but really projecting what skills are needed in a future years, and how they will get those skills. And so mending data from personnel to training, to upskilling, and also the type of work that they’re doing right now is very important. And so this is a great example why, you know, within a federal government over the last few years, agencies have been bringing on CDOs – chief data officers. Because having a CDO allows us to look across the agency at both technology and data, and have a better understanding on how to blend those two together to answer some of these big questions.
Tom Temin: Yeah, so that means that the data literacy has to be complemented by some sort of technical expertise, so that you can get the answer to the question. My question is, how do you know what to ask a chief data officer? You have something you want to know about the workforce? What happens? How do you start the process?
Kimya Lee: Curiosity, that’s how it starts. So for too long, the responsibility of interpreting data has been on a end user. So throughout the years, our data analysts will provide a graph or table or something to the end user and user was responsible to interpret what that means, right? One, we have to put some of that onus on the designer to provide better design data driven applications for the employees. And so that’s where the chief data officer comes into play. It allows us to mend that gap of individuals who may have designed that model, but also helps to design how that visual come out so people can understand and interpret it. But it’s not only on those who are responsible for the data analytics. Its responsibility also is on the workforce or the end user. Because we have to be able to ask and be curious about what we say, and so not just take in what’s given to us and accepting it, we have to be willing to ask the next question. In a next question. In a next question. It means really building a confidence to ask the next question to look for that whitespace opportunities, revealed in a data to make those critical decisions when data just shows what it is – not what is meant to be. And so that’s why it has to be a full whole agency workforce approach. It is not just one person’s responsibility.
Tom Temin: And I would think that would be of great value to individual employees in terms of their ability to say, you know, I’d like to try that agency, maybe I have a skill that I got at FEMA that can work at CISA or something, I’m just making that up. But there’s no way of knowing unless you’ve got an analytical way to look at people.
Kimya Lee: That is true. And at DHS, we also put out these joint duty opportunities, that goes out to the full federal workforce. So anyone within the federal workforce can do a joint duty opportunity. For example, I have one within my unit, where we’re looking for individuals with a data science or data analytic experience, to help us with that data visualization. And this comes in handy for both, it comes in handy for the individual who would be interested in it, it comes in handy for their agency that they’re currently at because they can come learn from DHS get a better understanding on how we manipulate and display and make decisions around data and bring that experience back to their agency. It’s the diversity of experience that could be shared throughout the federal government.
Tom Temin: And as we speak, there’s a new team bit-by-bit coming in at the political level to DHS, which happens when there’s a change in administration. Have you sense that they’re talking to your crew about what’s going on in terms of the workforce, they can make sure that whatever policies they have, they’ve got the people to carry them out?
Kimya Lee: Yes, they’re in constant communication with our [chief human capital officer] CHCO [Angela] Bailey, as well as really getting a better understanding of some of the policies that are already on the books. And what does that mean? They’re served with the new administration, which is great, have data and insight and what it means and how it’s being used and asking the next five questions, not just the next question, and seeing the overall impact. And so again, it’s not data for data sake. It is really data to be used to put forward our mission and to have an overall impact on American workforce but also Americans as a whole.
Tom Temin: And while we have you let’s talk about COVID. The pandemic the effect on the workforce, that must be something you’re measuring very carefully.
Kimya Lee: We are, actually. When we are looking at COVID and just like the U.S. and the world as they track their numbers just giving an overall number is a first step, but it’s not the meaningful insights that’s needed. So we can say what proportion of our workforce have been COVID positive, and how many have recovered and provide those overall statistics. However, we would have to also look at the components. So are we seeing this larger increase and COVID positive cases for individuals who perform certain tasks? We have individuals who are mission support and work in offices. And over the last year, we all have been teleworking. How does that affect the workforce in comparison to individuals who have to go into the office or who interact with the public on a daily basis? Also, thinking about asking the next question, the next question and next question, like I mentioned before, and that curiosity, as we, as the U.S. in general, as well as the federal government, not only at DHS, but as we think about the vaccination of our workforce, and understanding that there are some individuals who experience maybe some fatigue after getting in their first or second shot. Does it make sense for everyone in our unit to get the shot at the exact same day at the exact same time? Specifically, if that unit would have to work together. You wouldn’t want the full unit to experience fatigue, or be down a few days? Those are some of the questions that you have to ask and you have to look at the data. Again, not saying this is DHS-specific. I’m saying in general as you investigate and dig into data, and how it affects your workforce and asking that next question and being curious about the data. That’s the way it provides insight and leads to data driven decision making.
Tom Temin: Dr. Kimya Lee is executive director of Strategic Workforce Planning and Analysis at the Homeland Security Department. Thanks so much for joining me.
Kimya Lee: It’s been a pleasure. Thank you.
Tom Temin: We’ll post this interview at FederalNewsNetwork.com/FederalDrive. Subscribe to the Federal Drive at Podcastone or wherever you get your shows.