Remaking government with a new salary system

Pay and performance top agenda for change

Bush administration officials say their plan to change the way federal workers are paid and promoted is a central part of efforts to remake the internal workings of government. But skeptics wonder whether the administration's civil service reform proposals will transform government or undermine the federal workforce.

Administration officials plan to send Congress a proposal that would overhaul the way federal workers are paid and promoted, a change they want to go into effect by 2010, according to a draft letter from the Office of Personnel Management.

Granting agencies greater workforce flexibilities "makes it possible for agencies to be better focused on results," said Clay Johnson, the Office of Management and Budget's deputy director for management. "Civil service reform helps us create a performance culture."

In contrast, Jack Hanley, president of the National Federation of Federal Employees' Council of GSA Locals, predicted that reforms would cause "many

more conflicts, a lot more grievances and a lot more workload for the unions and the labor relations people."

But the Bush administration is not alone in its belief about the need to institute pay-for-performance systems. "Human capital reform is an essential

element in order to transform government," said David Walker, U.S. comptroller general.

A group of 18 Republican lawmakers, led by Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), say they want to vote in favor of a proposal to replace the 50-year-old General

Schedule system of payment and promotion. "The time has come to promote a personnel system that mirrors the market," they wrote in a letter to Bush earlier this year.

In new systems being developed at the Homeland Security and Defense departments, in addition to existing systems at the Federal Aviation Administration and a slew of other agencies, more than half of federal workers will have their salary tied to some measure of performance. But managers at DOD and DHS, which employ 42 percent of the federal civilian workforce, have limited experience with pay for performance. That means the administration should wait until officials can evaluate the effectiveness of those programs before expanding the reforms, many skeptics

say. They also cite a survey of FAA employees released in January in which only 38 percent of respondents covered by that agency's pay-for-performance system give it a favorable review.

DOD's new pay regime, set to launch incrementally beginning July 1, has been delayed by a flood of negative comments from employees and contentious meetings with unions.

The final reform proposal will be released this summer, Johnson said, adding that draft language was released to agencies for feedback. "We've got an awful lot of comments back from agencies, so we need to sort through those comments and pay a lot of attention to them," he said.

Permanent or temp?

Employee resistance to pay-for-performance systems may continue well into the foreseeable future, said one academic who has different recommendations for personnel reform. The track record of pay-for-performance systems gives little reason to be optimistic, said James Thompson, an associate professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago and co-author of a recent report for the IBM Center for the Business of Government called "The Blended Workforce: Maximizing Agility Through Nonstandard Work Arrangements."

Performance evaluations "tend to be highly subjective, unless you're an assembly-line employee," Thompson said. Even in the private sector, managers don't receive adequate training on how to conduct evaluations. And in government, training funds are often the first to disappear when budgets are tight.

Thompson recommends that the government adopt a core-ring model for structuring the workforce. A core group of employees performing year-round tasks could be supplemented with on-demand contract workers, he said. Under the Bush administration's plans, two basic categories of workers would be established, career and time-limited employees, and the Office of Personnel Management would have rapid-response hiring authority. But although it might appear similar to the core-ring model, the administration's plan breaks down because temporary workers "always are going to be second-class employees," Thompson said. "Obviously, everybody would prefer to be permanent and have the choice of when to leave be theirs."

When contract workers are hired to tackle government jobs, "you get good people, because they're basically virtually permanent jobs, they only just happen to be working for a contractor," he said.

— David Perera

About the Author

David Perera is a special contributor to Defense Systems.

The Fed 100

Read the profiles of all this year's winners.

Featured

  • Then-presidential candidate Donald Trump at a 2016 campaign event. Image: Shutterstock

    'Buy American' order puts procurement in the spotlight

    Some IT contractors are worried that the "buy American" executive order from President Trump could squeeze key innovators out of the market.

  • OMB chief Mick Mulvaney, shown here in as a member of Congress in 2013. (Photo credit Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

    White House taps old policies for new government makeover

    New guidance from OMB advises agencies to use shared services, GWACs and federal schedules for acquisition, and to leverage IT wherever possible in restructuring plans.

  • Shutterstock image (by Everett Historical): aerial of the Pentagon.

    What DOD's next CIO will have to deal with

    It could be months before the Defense Department has a new CIO, and he or she will face a host of organizational and operational challenges from Day One

  • USAF Gen. John Hyten

    General: Cyber Command needs new platform before NSA split

    U.S. Cyber Command should be elevated to a full combatant command as soon as possible, the head of Strategic Command told Congress, but it cannot be separated from the NSA until it has its own cyber platform.

  • Image from Shutterstock.

    DLA goes virtual

    The Defense Logistics Agency is in the midst of an ambitious campaign to eliminate its IT infrastructure and transition to using exclusively shared, hosted and virtual services.

  • Fed 100 logo

    The 2017 Federal 100

    The women and men who make up this year's Fed 100 are proof positive of what one person can make possibile in federal IT. Read on to learn more about each and every winner's accomplishments.

Reader comments

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Please type the letters/numbers you see above

More from 1105 Public Sector Media Group