Federal unions attack pay-for-performance efforts

Government employee union representatives attacked the Bush administration’s effort to move toward a pay-for-performance system and alleged at a House subcommittee hearing July 31 that initial efforts to implement the changes were dismal failures that would politicize federal pay.

In response, Office of Personnel Management Director Linda Springer defended the administration’s programs, saying that early attempts at pay-for-performance implementation have by and large succeeded.

The hearing on federal pay policies and administration was held by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee’s Federal Workforce, Postal Service and the District of Columbia Subcommittee. Some of the discussion revolved around the proposed performance-based pay system, which the administration’s hopes will be used governmentwide by 2010, replacing the current General Schedule system.

A few early pay-for-performance implementation efforts at selected agencies were rushed and ran into problems, Springer said. But over time, the change will be successful, she added.

"It takes a few years before you really start to see it take hold," Springer said.

But Colleen Kelley, head of the National Treasury Employees Union, disagreed. She said the early pay-for-performance efforts were  failures and that the new system had no record of success.

"There is no credibility with employees," Kelley said.

David Cox, national secretary-treasurer at the American Federation of Government Employees, AFL-CIO, said the new system was based on subjectivity, and would give managers the ability "to discriminate and call it ‘performance.’"

"The Bush administration has been relentless in its effort to politicize federal pay," Cox said.

Both Kelley and Cox agreed that the current General Schedule system was flawed, but they said fixing it, not scrapping it, should be the goal.

"At this point," Cox said, "it’s the best system that we have."

Rep. Danny Davis (D-Ill.), the subcommittee chairman, said his panel would hold more hearings on federal pay issues.

"We need to know more about agencies’ experience with pay-for-performance systems and market-based compensation studies," Davis said.

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