White House promotes personnel reform

The Bush administration is planning a coordinated campaign by top agency officials to promote civil service reforms to federal workers, including the first major change to the government's pay system in 50 years.

Details of a draft proposal show that the administration is planning to send Congress a proposal that would ensure that all federal workers are hired, promoted, paid and discharged solely on the basis of merit by 2010.

Under the draft proposal obtained by Federal Computer Week last week, government workers would be classified into broad groups of jobs — such as law enforcement or engineering — and paid according to pay bands within those groups. The General Schedule system with its "rigid, 'one-size-fits-all' approach" hides disparities in federal jobs' market value, according to the proposal.

But expanding personnel reforms already approved by Congress for the Defense and Homeland Security departments won't be possible "if the employees are against it, if it is perceived that it is bad for employees," said Clay Johnson, deputy director for management at the Office of Management and Budget.

"The best source to alleviate or address concerns and any anxiety they have is not OMB" or the Office of Personnel Management, Johnson said. "Agency leadership, both political and career, are the best people to explain to their employees what they would to make sure that implementation of civil service modernization would be successful."

A series of focus groups OMB conducted earlier this year with employees at GS-14 level and higher demonstrated that the administration must "explain that civil service modernization is not an end in itself, it is a means to another end" — attaining greater efficiency in government, Johnson said.

The focus group analysis shows that employees had a basic set of 10 to 15 questions about personnel reform. Recommended answers to those questions might be sent to top agency managers, Johnson added.

But the idea of governmentwide personnel reform is being met with skepticism, if not hostility, from federal unions.

"It is foolhardy to rush further changes into law without first gaining experience and understanding the lessons to be learned from the changes at DOD and DHS," said Colleen Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union.

Many lawmakers are urging caution but say they remain open to administration proposals. "I think the jury's still out on whether these are going to work or not," said Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), chairman of the House Government Reform Committee. But on the other hand, "there are some other common-sense reforms hopefully that most people can agree on — hiring and firing."

About the Author

David Perera is a special contributor to Defense Systems.

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