Bush wants easier firing

Making it easier for federal officials to hire, promote and fire government workers tops President Bush's management agenda for the coming year.

Similar polices granting human resources managers greater flexibility are close to being enacted at the Defense and Homeland Security departments.

"We think that the same opportunities to better manage our agencies exist" across the entire federal government, said Clay Johnson, the Office of Management and Budget's deputy director for management. Johnson spoke to reporters Jan. 26.

Office of Personnel Management officials are already at work drafting legislation that Bush will forward to Congress following his Feb. 7 federal budget proposal submission to lawmakers, Johnson added. The bill's language will generally parallel rules already set to govern workforce flexibility regulations for Pentagon and DHS workers, he said. Officials at both departments plan to link performance to pay, loosen seniority requirements for promotion and make it easier to discharge workers.

Administration officials expect the upcoming governmentwide workforce flexibility bill to be widely debated, Johnson said. Union leaders already have said they plan to file a lawsuit to prevent officials from implementing the new DHS rules.

Also included in Bush's 2005 legislative agenda is creation of a "Sunset Commission" that would require all 1,200 government programs, at a pace of approximately 120 programs annually, to justify to Congress their existence once every 10 years. Under the bill Bush plans on sending to Capitol Hill, if lawmakers did not vote to continue a program, its funding would automatically cease. "Congress is very reluctant to stop things," Johnson said.

Forcing a Congressional review every year would ensure greater oversight and accountability, he said. Although the idea is not new and has been defeated by lawmakers in the past, "we think it's particularly well thought, and the President is very focused on results," Johnson said.

Bush is also calling for ad hoc commissions that would examine outcomes of multiagency programs. Under this bill, the executive branch would propose the creation of a special, bipartisan committee of eight experts with authority to hold hearings and investigate the efficiency of government efforts that span federal departments and congressional committee jurisdictions.

"It's hard to look at them all as a total," Johnson said.

Congress would approve each "Results Commission" on a case-by-case basis. The special committee would have nine months to conduct oversight and respond to OMB recommendations. At the end of that period, the commission would return its final proposal to OMB. The proposal would be submitted to Congress for expedited consideration.

"This is an attempt to be particularly focused on the best way to spend our money," Johnson said.

The coming budget will be tight for federal agencies, although federal information technology spending will increase, Johnson said.

Federal policy observers should not draw conclusions about the level of support behind any particular program based on its fiscal 2006 funding levels, he added. "Perhaps we found a way to get the job done for less money," he said.

About the Author

David Perera is a special contributor to Defense Systems.

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