Cover: Determining Staffing Needs for Administrative, Professional, and Technical Workers in the U.S. Secret Service

Determining Staffing Needs for Administrative, Professional, and Technical Workers in the U.S. Secret Service

Methods and Lessons Learned

Published Aug 18, 2020

by David Schulker, Nelson Lim, Albert A. Robbert


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Research Question

  1. How can the U.S. Secret Service determine staffing needs for its highest-priority administrative, professional, and technical functions?

Researchers conducted a study to propose new approaches for determining staffing needs in the U.S. Secret Service's highest-priority administrative, professional, and technical functions. They used objective and subjective, quantitative and qualitative methods to create staffing models. The authors applied a bottom-up approach commonly used for staffing models of administrative work that involved constructing process maps for the major work processes that produce each function's outputs and pairing those maps with estimates of the frequency and duration of each process. These bottom-up inputs let them estimate the total workload to calculate an actionable number of full-time–equivalent employees that will be sufficient to accomplish the function's workload. They also discuss the more subjective approach of business-case analysis, which was occasionally helpful in generating supplemental information or that they used for areas in which the work was too unstructured for the bottom-up approach to yield reliable estimates. This report documents the team's methods, implementation considerations, and lessons learned for future workforce studies.

Key Findings

Different functions require different approaches to developing staffing models

  • The most suitable approach for the study functions is a bottom-up workload estimator method, supplemented by business-case analyses in certain areas.
  • Workflows in the Applications Development Branch were distinctive because of the influence of agile methodologies for project management, so this area required the examination of alternative methods.

Some methods of determining optimal staffing can be challenging to implement but can provide benefits beyond the staffing results

  • Although some bottom-up models rely on difficult-to-validate subjective inputs, the process of developing them produced additional benefits to workforce planners. Even a potentially noisy bottom-up model yields great increases in transparency in the work activities that decisionmakers are resourcing, for instance.


  • Conduct a preliminary assessment of candidate functions to determine whether the functions are ripe for a staffing study. This preliminary assessment should examine whether (1) subject-matter experts have sufficient time to participate in the study, (2) the organizational structure and mission are clearly defined and stable, (3) the work processes in the function are stable and efficient, (4) workflow data on key processes are captured, and (5) performance dimensions are defined and captured in data (if possible). In cases in which these criteria are not met, functions could have the opportunity to implement changes before proceeding with model development.
  • Some of the team's difficulties in implementing the bottom-up approach could be alleviated in future work by earmarking focused study periods instead of attempting to do the study on top of normal work schedules.

This research was sponsored by the U.S. Secret Service Workforce Planning Division and conducted within the Personnel and Resources Program of the Homeland Security Operational Analysis Center (HSOAC) federally funded research and development center (FFRDC).

This report is part of the RAND research report series. RAND reports present research findings and objective analysis that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors. All RAND reports undergo rigorous peer review to ensure high standards for research quality and objectivity.

RAND is a nonprofit institution that helps improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis. RAND's publications do not necessarily reflect the opinions of its research clients and sponsors.