House, Senate committee chiefs urge slow approach to personnel overhaul

The administration's proposal to revamp the personnel system for federal workers is being met with caution from GOP lawmakers who oversee government reorganization.

Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chairwoman Susan Collins, R-Maine, and House Government Reform Chairman Tom Davis, R-Va., say President Bush might be moving too quickly.

The administration last week signaled plans to give all agencies the option of switching to a human resources system that will soon be in place for some workers at the Homeland Security and Defense departments. But Collins said Congress should wait to see how that system, which is expected to be launched in the fall, works before implementing the changes governmentwide.

"The personnel systems at DOD and DHS are experiments in creating flexible personnel systems. I think it is prudent to see how these systems fare before deciding whether to expand the reforms to other federal agencies," Collins said in a statement.

Davis, whose Northern Virginia district is home to many federal employees, agreed. "We're pretty much on the same sheet of music as Sen. Collins," said a spokesman for Davis. Still, Davis said in a statement that his panel would examine the administration's proposals, consulting with the Civil Service subcommittee. Davis, who is considering reorganizing his subcommittees following the departure of four chairmen, has not yet decided who will head up that panel.

Democrats on both committees denounced the proposal, saying the new regulations could erode workers' rights.

Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs ranking member Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., agreed with Collins that Congress should wait to see how the regulations work before making them governmentwide. His spokeswoman said he has no plans to take pre-emptive action against the proposal before a bill is introduced.

"When the rules were proposed a year ago, I and others objected to a number of the elements that remain -- for example, excessive limits on collective bargaining that go beyond what is necessary to maintain the critical mission of the department, changes to the appeals process that interfere with employees' rights to due process, and unduly vague and untested pay and performance provisions," Lieberman said in a statement.

House Government Reform ranking member Henry Waxman, D-Calif., said what is good for defense agencies is not necessarily good for the rest of government.

"I have serious concerns about actions made in the name of 'reform' that weaken collective bargaining rights and appeal rights. Congress granted DOD and DHS personnel flexibilities in recognition of their particular national security mission. That rationale doesn't apply to the rest of the government," Waxman said.

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