Bill would warn agencies about changing pay systems

A bill passed by both houses of Congress that would add a guaranteed pay raise for employees of the Government Accountability Office wouldn’t affect all federal employees, but it still conveys a larger message to agencies considering tweaks to their pay systems, an expert said last week.

“It’s a cautionary tale,” said John Palguta, vice president of policy at the Partnership for Public Service. The measure warns agency officials to proceed slowly when making changes related to employee pay.

The Government Accountability Office Act (H.R. 5683) would supplement GAO’s pay-for-performance pay system with a minimum guaranteed raise for employees. The legislation would ensure that, as long as employees perform satisfactorily, they will receive an annual increase at least equal to that paid under the General Schedule system.

Congressional hearings and investigations found problems in GAO’s pay and salary system. Employees who received satisfactory performance reviews were not getting equal pay raises, according to a report accompanying the bill.

Because GAO didn’t give across-the-board pay increases, the bill would provide for salary increases and lump-sum payments to GAO employees who were denied cost of living increases in 2006 and 2007.

“This is a make-whole bill,” Palguta said.

Also, for the incoming administration, the bill highlights some concerns about the federal pay system and how they might be addressed, he said.

Charles Fay, professor at Rutgers University’s School of Management and Public Relations, agreed that the bill sends a message of caution. For agencies changing their pay structure, he recommended first labeling it as an experiment and reserving the right to switch back to the former system if it doesn’t work.

About the Author

Matthew Weigelt is a freelance journalist who writes about acquisition and procurement.

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