Editorial: Time for a fresh start

Few people think the government's General Schedule pay system works well

Increasingly few people believe that the federal government’s existing pay system isn’t broken, perhaps severely broken.

One-third of agency chief human capital officers said the government should scrap the government’s General Schedule pay system, according to a recent survey of chief human capital officers conducted by the Partnership for Public Service and Grant Thornton.

The government’s pay system is simply no longer adequate, said the survey respondents — 55 federal human resources officials from 28 major departments and agencies and more than a dozen small agencies. A change in how federal employees are paid appears to be less a question of if, than how, according to the survey report, “Federal Human Capital: the Perfect Storm.”

Those findings represent a real opportunity for a new administration. There is eagerness for change.

Federal Computer Week’s annual “Best Agencies for Federal IT Workers” study, published in this week’s issue, also provides hints about opportunities. For the third year running, our survey finds that feds generally love what they do. They believe in the government’s — and their agency’s — mission. They believe their work is public service in the best sense.

The government must work  with its employees to develop a pay system that is more modern, agile, flexible and fair.

The Bush administration has taken some steps by creating pay-for-performance programs at the Defense and Homeland Security departments. But they represent only one step. They have largely foundered because administration officials have refused to involve employees in discussions about the particulars of  those programs.

Again, government workers believe in the work they do. The government’s pay system needs to help agencies find the talents they need to accomplish their important missions.

Discussions about pay changes are not easy, as the Government Accountability Office has discovered.  Its pay changes triggered a campaign to unionize GAO employees.

Such discussions are probably more difficult in the public sector than in the private sector. However, it is vitally important to have them if the government is going to work effectively.


About the Author

Christopher J. Dorobek is the co-anchor of Federal News Radio’s afternoon drive program, The Daily Debrief with Chris Dorobek and Amy Morris, and the founder, publisher and editor of the DorobekInsider.com, a leading blog for the Federal IT community.

Dorobek joined Federal News Radio in 2008 with 16 years of experience covering government issues with an emphasis on government information technology. Prior to joining Federal News Radio, Dorobek was editor-in-chief of Federal Computer Week, the leading news magazine for government IT decision-makers and the flagship of the 1105 Government Information Group portfolio of publications. As editor-in-chief, Dorobek served as a member of the senior leadership team at 1105 Government Information Group, providing daily editorial direction and management for FCW magazine, FCW.com, Government Health IT and its other editorial products.

Dorobek joined FCW in 2001 as a senior reporter and assumed increasing responsibilities, becoming managing editor and executive editor before being named editor-in-chief in 2006. Prior to joining FCW, Dorobek was a technology reporter at PlanetGov.com, one of the first online community centers for current and former government employees. He also spent five years at Government Computer News, another leading industry publication, covering a variety of federal IT-related issues.

Dorobek is a frequent speaker on issues involving the government IT industry, and has appeared as a frequent contributor to NewsChannel 8’s Federal News Today program. He began his career as a reporter at the Foster’s Daily Democrat, a daily newspaper in Dover, N.H. He is a graduate of the University of Southern California. He lives in Washington, DC.

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