OMB: Quality will pay

CAMBRIDGE, Md. -- The Bush administration hopes to create a better caliber of government managers by overhauling the federal personnel system and rewarding people for performance, not longevity, a top government official said today.

Clay Johnson, the Office of Management and Budget's deputy director for management, said the new personnel system is coming, and it will be a good deal for employees who do good work.

"If change for the personnel system is not good for the employee, it will not be good for the agencies," said Johnson, speaking on the final day of the Interagency Resources Management Conference (IRMCO).

He said 20 percent of federal workers are great, 20 percent are not and the rest fall in the middle. Until now, he said, there was no reason to give a worker an accurate performance review because their yearly pay raises were not tied to performance. And there was no reason not to promote a stellar employee to a manager’s position that paid more even if there was no concrete evidence the worker would become a good manager.

The civil service system -- in place for more than 50 years -- does not place emphasis on quality, Johnson said. "There is no fiscal reason to give anyone a real performance review," he said.

That is about to change because the Defense and Homeland Security departments are implementing changes for how more than 700,000 workers are evaluated, promoted and awarded raises.

"It is all about changing the quality of managers at every level," Johnson said.

Johnson said he has been holding focus groups with employees at 15 agencies to talk about personnel changes, and "employees say they want to get better, grow professionally. They welcome the change in the [human resources] system."

Nevertheless, Johnson said change is a "very scary proposition" despite the fact that "more people have had problems with a terrible manager in the public sector than in the private sector."

Johnson said it's likely to take a number of years to implement the new system, but "this is going to happen," he said.

In addition, federal unions representing employees at DOD and DHS have filed lawsuits, contending that the new personnel system strips them of their right to collectively bargain and appeal adverse decisions.

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