Managing human capital

Buzz of the week

Management isn’t easy, and management in the government is even more complex.

The latest example of that is the Government Accountability Office. Last week, GAO analysts voted 897 to 445 to unionize, joining the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers. Of course, that comes on the heels of GAO being named as the second best place to work in government by the Partnership for Public Service and American University’s Institute for the Study of Public Policy Implementation.

It is too early to know the lessons from GAO’s efforts to modernize its workforce practices. As part of GAO’s pay-for-performance plan, Comptroller General David Walker decided to do away with annual cost-of-living increases for some employees in certain pay bands in lieu of...well, pay for performance. It is an understatement to say that concept has not gone over well.

Undoubtedly, lessons will accrue from GAO’s experience, particularly for the presidential candidates who will be looking at GAO and the Bush administration’s pay-for-performance initiatives at the Defense and HomelandSecurity departments.

Clearly, one lesson is that pay changes are difficult. The broader question is this: Are they necessary? A strong constituency argues that pay for performance is nearly impossible in government because it is so difficult to determine exactly what exceptional performance consists of. Performance in a government project is determined by so many factors.

Last week appears to have been a turning point in reforming the government pay system. What remains unclear is where that turning point takes us.

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