Proposed bill would expand OPM's role

Agencies would be permitted to design their own employee appraisal and pay systems within certain limits if lawmakers enact a proposal known as the Working for America Act, the federal government’s top personnel official testified today.

The flexibility granted agencies to design their pay systems, however, would be contingent on the Office of Personnel Management’s certification that they are ready to handle the change, said OPM Director Linda Springer. Springer testified before the House Government Reform Committee’s subcommittee on workforce issues.

Legislation passed in the late 1940s established the current General Schedule pay grades, and they have remained largely unchanged since then, Springer said. The act would update that pay system while preserving the basic fairness of the civil service, she said.

But a union leader who testified at the hearings called the proposed legislation an attack on federal employees’ rights. Colleen Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, said the Bush administration’s ideas for a governmentwide overhaul of federal labor rules and employee pay are excessively complex and give OPM too much authority over those issues.

Springer testified that the act would give OPM authority to establish a core compensation system for the federal government, “defining broad groups of like occupations, such as law enforcement or science and engineering, as well as pay bands within each group.”

Under the new system, a significant portion of an employee’s pay would be merit-based, Springer said. Under the current system, poorly performing employees still receive across-the-board and locality pay increases.

If enacted, Springer said, Working for America would permanently end the General Schedule and the Federal Wage System by 2010.

Springer said the proposed legislation would require collective bargaining agreements, “but only when a proposed management action's effect on employees is foreseeable, substantial and significant in terms of impact and duration.”

In other testimony, Max Stier, president and chief executive officer of the Partnership for Public Service, said the current federal pay and job classification system is “no longer good enough to attract and retain the best and brightest.” However, he added, “some agencies will need help, and some will need lots of it” to fairly and effectively evaluate employees if Working for America is enacted.

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