Bush Administration Bill Would Take Pay System Changes Government-Wide

By Stephen Barr
Tuesday, June 7, 2005; B02

The Bush administration has drafted legislation that would revamp how federal workers are paid, extending policy changes approved for the departments of Defense and Homeland Security to the rest of the federal workforce.

The plan would abolish the decades-old General Schedule pay system by 2010 and replace it with compensation based on occupations, labor market conditions and more rigorous criteria for evaluating job performance.

Administration officials cautioned that their legislative proposal may change, based on the outcome of an interagency review process. Clay Johnson III , deputy director for management at the Office of Management and Budget, said last week that he expected the administration to send a "civil service modernization" bill to Congress in a few weeks.

It's not clear that Congress would approve such a far-reaching bill this year. Some members of Congress seem wary about pushing government-wide changes before auditors have had time to evaluate personnel overhauls at the departments of Defense and Homeland Security. Those changes are to get underway this year and could take four years or longer to implement.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said through a spokeswoman yesterday that she would consider any legislative proposals sent to Capitol Hill by the administration.

"However, she believes that a decision to expand personnel reforms government-wide should be informed, to the extent possible, by the experience of agencies where reforms are in progress," Collins spokeswoman Elissa Davidson said.

Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.), chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, declined to comment yesterday on the administration's plan. Davis expects to meet with administration officials in the next few weeks to learn about the proposal, spokesman Drew Crockett said.

Johnson said the outcome of the Defense and Homeland Security changes should have "no bearing" on whether other agencies will succeed in revamping workplace rules, noting that non-defense agencies have different missions or may be smaller and more nimble at restructuring.

Asked whether he was concerned that the government could fragment into "haves and have-nots," Johnson noted that the flexibilities approved for Defense and Homeland Security could indeed give them an edge in hiring and keeping employees. "They become the haves and become more competitive than the rest of the government," Johnson said.

The administration's draft proposal also would expand the power of the Office of Personnel Management by requiring agencies to get a green light from OPM before replacing the GS system. The plan appears to be modeled on a recent pay change for the Senior Executive Service that requires agencies to obtain OPM certification if they want to offer higher salaries to their career executives.

OPM would certify that an agency's new compensation system met certain criteria, such as providing "a fair, credible and transparent employee performance appraisal system," according to the draft bill.

For certification, an agency would be required to publish a notice in the Federal Register seeking public comment for 30 days. The draft bill would prohibit unions from bargaining over creation of the new systems, as well as pay levels and the rules for such systems. The pay systems would "immediately supercede, and render unenforceable, any conflicting provision of any collective bargaining agreement," according to the administration's proposal.

According to the draft bill, OPM would define federal occupations and establish one or more pay bands -- or salary ranges -- for each. The draft bill would require at least four pay bands: entry/developmental, full performance, senior expert and supervisory.

The draft bill also would create a Federal Pay Council to advise OPM and OMB on pay levels and locality adjustments. It would have 16 members, including six from employee groups, and apparently would replace the current councils that help oversee white-collar and blue-collar pay policies.