Will anything change?

I sure hope Bush administration and congressional leaders were paying attention to the workforce changes recommended by three former political appointees at a hearing earlier this month. Some of them made good sense.

Former Federal Reserve Board Chairman Paul Volcker, former Defense Secretary Frank Carlucci and former Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala told the House Government Reform Committee March 6 that reducing the number of appointees by close to half would help the government run more efficiently and improve the morale of career civil servants. They also said that one way to improve overall performance was to make civil servants more involved in agency decision-making.

These recommendations are definitely good for federal employees, and I am happy to hear them coming from people who really understand how things work. It means the recommendations are realistic. They're doable.

However, there are some recommendations that do not make much sense. Volcker, chairman of the National Commission on the Public Service, testified that in a January report the commission decided to focus on the bigger issue of how to restructure the government into "super-departments" that would consolidate the government's operations based on mission, eliminate overlaps and help employees focus on improving federal services and programs.

I'm afraid that's where he lost me. We do not need more government reorganizations. I cannot count the number of reorganizations most departments and agencies have gone through, and I seriously doubt that they have helped.

The three witnesses suggested that Congress and the White House find a way to recommend significant pay raises for the judiciary and the Senior Executive Service, the top rank of the civil service. Volcker contended that holding down judicial pay would "do basic damage" to the courts.

I agree with these recommendations. Pay is the key to any improvement in government service. Top people in corporate America routinely earn millions annually. If you're bright, why should you enter government service and work for peanuts when there is so much more to be made in the private sector? Until Congress and the executive branch face up to this reality, not much will change.

This reality was made quite evident when Rep. Adam Putnam (R-Fla.) questioned Volcker's recommendation to immediately raise the pay of federal judges and top civil servants, because he said it would create an "awkward situation" to pay them more than the "board of directors," meaning lawmakers. Putnam said he feared that paying judges more than lawmakers would make the judicial branch seem more important than the legislative branch.

Putnam is being honest and deserves praise for that, but he is also being incredibly dumb. Where is it written that the legislative branch should have primacy over the judicial branch? Will anything change? You tell me.

Zall is a retired federal employee who since 1987 has written the Bureaucratus column for Federal Computer Week. He can be reached at [email protected]


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