Springer promises OPM safeguards

Civil service reform dominated the discussion during a June 15 Senate confirmation hearing for the Bush administration's pick to lead the Office of Personnel Management.

"I am deeply aware of some concerns about reform," said Linda Springer, the president's nominee for OPM director. "And I pledge to all of you, that OPM, should I be the next director, will be committed to a fair and effective implementation of any personnel reform that we undertake."

A draft White House proposal leaked earlier this month shows administration officials are planning to send Congress a proposal that would ensure all government employees are "hired, promoted, paid and discharged solely on the basis of merit" by 2010. Similar personnel reforms for civilian workers at the Defense and Homeland Security departments are expected to be enacted by 2009.

"An employee's career and pay potential shouldn’t be determined by the passage of time," Springer told senators. "They should be recognized and evaluated based on achievement."

If confirmed, this would be Springer's second tour of duty in government. From 2002 until earlier this year, she served in the Office of Management and Budget, most of that time as OMB controller.

Quality workers will go elsewhere with better options if pay-for-performance is not extended governmentwide, Springer said.

"I can assure you that there will be a talent draw of good performers drawn to a situation where they can have the maximum potential for compensation," she said. "I've seen it happen already."

Employees' fears about the objectivity of managers are valid concerns, Springer said. The way to allay those anxieties is to ensure that managers are trained and operating a system with safeguards, she said, adding that pay for performance requires that training dollars not be cut off at the agencies.

Springer said she would be willing to prevent an agency from switching to pay for performance if its new management systems were not ready. "One of those safeguards, frankly, is that OPM will not let any of those systems go online until we’re satisfied," she said.

Managers will have to lay out their expectations of employees in writing, she added.

Changes to the civil service would be best enacted first in “a few of the agencies that are really well-run, very well-managed already,” such as the Social Security Administration, Springer said.

Open communication with unions would also be among OPM's priorities, Springer said. "I think it would be naive to think that we're going agree on everything," she said. "We have different perspectives."

But, if confirmed, her first act would be to call the presidents of the National Treasury Employees Union and the American Federation of Government Employees, Springer said.


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About the Author

David Perera is a special contributor to Defense Systems.

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