Workforce changes find congressional support

Civil service reform has found a high-profile champion in Congress: Rep. Tom Davis.

The powerful Virginia Republican said changes to how the federal workforce is managed and paid are among the top priorities for the House Government Reform Committee, which he now chairs.

"We need a new structure," Davis said, adding that the government needs to change how it recruits, retains, rewards and fires employees. "We need to revamp [the civil service] significantly" to make it more efficient. Workers should be paid what they are worth, and people who do a good job should be rewarded, he said.

Davis' agenda reflects recommendations laid out in the National Commission on the Public Service's report released Jan. 7 as well as workforce reforms championed by Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio).

"It's clear we can't take the existing structure into the 21st century," Davis said Jan. 22 at an event sponsored by the Partnership for Public Service. There must be more emphasis on recruiting and retaining the best people, including reducing the time it takes an agency to hire someone, he said.

Davis said he likes the idea of creating two tracks for members of the Senior Executive Service: one for managers and one for technical experts. "They have two different skill sets," he said. "Both are important and we should allow for both."

He also said SES salary caps should be raised and uncoupled from congressional salaries. Otherwise, "it will lead to an exodus when it comes time for these folks to retire," he said.

Reforms won't be easy. Carl DeMaio, president of the Performance Institute, said he supports the idea of pay-for-performance; however, efforts to create a similar program to reward outstanding SES performers have fallen short.

"There's no will at the senior agency leadership level to hold senior executives accountable for results and use the SES system to reward outstanding performance," DeMaio said. Too many in SES are receiving bonuses, and for the same amount. "I'm nervous that if we can't get it done for the senior executives, how in the world can we get it done for the rank-and-file federal employees?"

Davis said he wants to get feedback from stakeholders and make sure his Senate counterparts are on board before he pursues his workforce agenda.

However, the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) said it opposes any plan to get rid of the current pay system in exchange for a pay-for-performance or pay-banding system.

"The arguments in favor of scrapping the federal pay system are so weak, vague and political that any sustained or serious examination of this issue would condemn the [Bush] administration's plan to failure," Bobby Harnage, national president of AFGE, said in a statement. The plan is part of a larger strategy to "dismantle the civil service" that includes outsourcing jobs to the private sector. n

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The Davis Plan

Among the changes Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) plans to promote are pay-for-performance, a revamped Senior Executive Service, reorganization authority for the president similar to Fast Track trade authority and closer ties between an agency's performance and workforce planning.

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