Bush seeks pay changes by 2010

The Bush administration is preparing legislation to permanently end the general schedule system of federal worker compensation by 2010.

White House plans are detailed in a draft letter addressed to House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), from Dan Blair, acting director of the Office of Personnel Management. Federal Computer Week obtained a copy of the letter. Spokeswomen from OPM and the Office of Management and Budget had no comment.

Among the changes to the civil service that Blair said are imperative is ensuring employees are "hired, promoted, paid and discharged solely on the basis of merit."

Separate but similar legislation being drafted by Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) would likewise expand governmentwide existing pay-for-performance systems at the Defense and Homeland Security departments.

A spokesman for Flake said the lawmaker is consulting with the White House on his bill. In a letter sent to President Bush earlier this year, Flake and 17 other lawmakers said the existing general schedule system "has become outdated in today’s modern workforce.”

"The time has come to promote a personnel system that mirrors the market," according to the letter.

But key lawmakers have met Bush administration announcements that it would push to expand DOD and DHS civil service reform with skepticism, however. "I think the jury’s still out on whether these are going to work or not," said Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), yesterday while speaking with reporters.

"On the other hand, there are some other common sense reforms hopefully that most people can agree on -- hiring and firing and some of these things that need to be done," he added.

In his letter, Blair said OPM wants to define broad groups of federal jobs -- such as law enforcement or engineering -- and establish pay bands with each of those groups. The general schedule system "with its rigid, 'one size fits all' approach [masks] often dramatic disparities in the market value of different federal jobs," Blair said.

The draft legislation also "would provide unprecedented flexibility to meet temporary and continuing mission needs by permitting a streamlined hiring process," the letter states. Two basic categories of employees would be established under current White House plans -- career and "time limited" employees, with the latter permitted to become career "under certain conditions."

The mission of OPM itself would change "from the regulator of personnel processes to the strategic manager of the federal government’s human capital," the letter states. The OPM director would be able to create new hiring authorities without an act of Congress or an executive order.

Unions would still be able to bargain with agency officials "but only when a proposed management action had a significant, substantial, and continuing adverse impact on employees," the letter states.

Agency management would be able to discuss personnel policies and other operational matters with employees without "having to first provide or wait for a union official to monitor the meeting." Also, management would be able to "prepare for, or prevent an emergency or prevent and fiscal or budgetary exigency without bargaining with unions first."

Agencies would need to have in place by 2008 a plan to switch to the new system by 2010, the letter says.

About the Author

David Perera is a special contributor to Defense Systems.

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