Buzz of the Week

GAO’s HR reality-check time

We were tempted to title this update “GAO has made progress with human capital issues, but significant challenges remain.”

But we often think that it must be difficult to work at the Government Accountability Office. As the government’s auditor, it is GAO’s job to investigate and report on what is and isn’t working.

Yet whenever anything goes slightly wrong there, most people outside GAO’s G Street headquarters are more than happy to sit back and say to themselves, “See, it’s not as easy as you think it is.” After all, just about every government program at one time or another has been at the pointy end of a stinging GAO report. Many people are willing to tell GAO how it should shape up.

GAO Comptroller General David Walker has made the workforce a priority at the organization.

GAO has instituted pay-for-performance measures in the hopes of being a model for the rest of government.

Unfortunately for Walker, GAO’s pay-for-performance initiative seems to have been about as popular as those programs have been at other agencies. A group of GAO employees countered with moves to unionize.

This week, GAO leaders struck back, hiring a private law firm to help them respond to the unionization drive. That legal effort could include a plan to challenge the eligibility of more than a third of the employees who filed petitions for union elections by contending that they are managers.Workforce issues are never easy, so nobody is surprised about the parrying.

We can only hope that GAO can use some of its management expertise to show other agencies how to create a better personnel system that can help employees and their agency employers, and benefit citizens.

Significant organizational challenges remain.

Buzz contenders
#2: Sun special
Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) has joined the legions investigating whether Sun Microsystems overcharged the federal government for products Sun sold on a General Services Administration schedule contract.

One question investigators are asking is whether Lurita Doan, GSA’s administrator, intervened in negotiations to keep the company on GSA’s schedule. Stay tuned for Doan’s response if she’s asked about the Sun case when she testifies June 13 before the House Committee  on Oversight and Government Reform headed by Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.).

#3: Carolina on my mind
Dave Combs has told his staff he’s leaving for Carolina at the end of June, ending his career as chief information officer at the Agriculture Department. North Carolina is his home, and it’s where he spent 20 years as an industry executive at AT&T. A lesser-known fact: Combs was a music producer and composer with his own company, Combs Music.

#4: eCopyright
The Copyright Office is moving into the Electronic Age with an automated copyright registration system that it will test this summer. Dave Combs, if you have a new song you want to copyright, you’ll be able to register it online — no hassle, no wait.

#5: New engine of growth
Former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner told Washington-area high-tech leaders last week that alternative energy will become the new engine of growth and the United States should rightfully lead developments in that area.

Warner predicted the development of alternative energy and fuels that don’t emit greenhouse gases could have the same economic multiplier effect in the next 25 years that telecommunications and information technology has had for the past 25 years.

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