GAO employees to have say in pay

Agency promises to include employees in systematic review of performance pay

Constructive relations

Since September, when analysts at the Government Accountability Office voted to be represented by the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers, GAO management leaders have sought to establish and maintain a constructive relationship with the union, said acting Comptroller General Gene Dodaro. The steps taken include:

  • Postponing work on several initiatives relating to current performance and pay programs.
  • Providing specialized labor/management relations training to senior-level officials.
  • Creating a workforce relations center in GAO’s Human Capital Office.
  • Hiring a workforce relations center director, who would serve as chief negotiator in collective bargaining deliberations.

— Richard W. Walker

Senior management officials at the Government Accountability Office have signaled a new spirit of conciliation on workforce issues, union leaders and congressional staff members say.

In a recent memo, acting Comptroller General Gene Dodaro told employees that their input is critical to a forthcoming review of GAO’s performance appraisal system.

The system has been a focal point of contention between management officials and GAO analysts since it was implemented in 2005.

“It is now time to begin planning for a systematic and inclusive review of our performance appraisal system in order to comprehensively re-examine what works, what does not and what could be done better,” Dodaro said.

Dodaro, chief operating officer and an employee at GAO for more than three decades, became acting head of the agency when former Comptroller General David Walker left in mid-March to become president of the Peter G. Peterson Foundation. Dodaro will serve in the position until the president nominates and the Senate confirms a successor from a list of candidates proposed by Congress.

As part of the upcoming review, management officials are committed to engaging employees throughout the process; keeping all topics and issues on the table; setting realistic and reasonable implementation time frames; and communicating frequently, openly and honestly about the process, status and findings, Dodaro said.

GAO employees said they are upbeat about Dodaro’s efforts to reach out and include them in the review.

“We’re very optimistic now that we will be part of the decision-making and look forward to this,” said Ron La Due Lake, chairman of the Interim Council of the GAO Employees Organization, which is represented by the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers. “This is new for us to feel that we are being included in these sorts of pre-decisional discussions with management.”

Under Walker, employees were invited to share their views on the pay system. However, they often felt that “many decisions were already in the works or perhaps even made” without their views, said Lake, a senior methodologist at GAO.

Difficult to achieve
In May 2007 testimony before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee’s subcommittee on the federal workforce, Walker defended the pay reforms as a “major accomplishment that was difficult to achieve.” However, “certain expectation and communication gaps” occurred as the system was put in place, he added.

Dodaro has shown that he intends to work closely with the workforce subcommittee and its chairman, Rep. Danny Davis (D-Ill.), a persistent critic of the way GAO has handled its pay reforms.

In a recent meeting with Davis, Dodaro pledged to work “collaboratively with the subcommittee to address any concerns we have,” Davis said, “and the subcommittee is committed to doing the same.”

That tone contrasts with Walker’s relations with the subcommittee, which a source close to the subcommittee said were often frosty. “That [Dodaro] sat down and pledged to work with the subcommittee is a turnaround in and of itself,” the source said. “That was a good sign.”

A major issue for GAO employees has been the agency’s pay-banding system, which in 2006 and 2007 eliminated cost-of-living increases for some analysts and classified others as overpaid compared with prevailing market rates for similar positions. 

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