OPM Floats Pay, Job Reforms

amaxwell@govexec.com

Federal agencies would be granted more flexibility in classifying jobs and setting salaries under a draft legislative proposal being circulated by the Office of Personnel Management.

In an outline of OPM's 1998 human resources management initiatives, the agency says its top priority this year is to "equip agencies with the flexible systems they need to manage their human resources effectively."

This will involve convincing Congress to modernize the government's current job classification system by establishing a governmentwide pay-banding authority and by creating more flexible pay administration features.

"OPM is taking the position that human resources management flexibilities is something that should be looked at governmentwide rather than having an unsystematic piece-by-piece loosening up of the HR systems," an OPM spokesperson said.

The proposal would permit agencies, within "certain parameters," to set salaries and classify employees via pay bands. Agencies would be given the authority to set the limits of pay bands and within-range adjustments for some or all GS employees.

"Agencies would have to use the General Schedule as the background. They wouldn't be redesigning a salary schedule from scratch," the spokesperson said. "This would just give agencies the go-ahead to do this without having to be a demonstration project."

The draft also includes several minor changes to the pay-setting process. "There are aspects of existing pay authorities that don't work together. The gears in the system don't go smoothly," the spokesperson said.

OPM's answer: update special pay-rate systems; calculate lump-sum annual leave on the basis of pay rate at separation; establish a within-range pay reduction mechanism and eliminate the appeal right for denial of within-grade pay increases.

OPM also plans to grant agencies the ability to create new incentive awards. The draft mentions establishing a lump-sum variable payment based on achieving group results and raising the limit on cash awards that may be granted without outside approval.

OPM is also trying to come up with recommendations to "reframe the highest echelon of government into a senior civil service consistent with the original vision of the Senior Executive Service."

"The way the SES was set up wasn't exactly wrong, but it's that we need to refresh some of it and sort of revisit it," the OPM spokesperson said.

OPM has yet to finalize specific proposals for changes in the SES, but says it wants to "strengthen systems for holding executives accountable for producing results." In that process, the agency plans on improving tools for educating executives and fostering executive mobility as a "means for broadening the executives' perspectives."

Although OPM officials say the draft outline should not be considered a "big civil service reform package," the agency plans on "pursuing what [they] can" throughout the year.

"We're not baking a cake here," the OPM spokesperson said. "We're baking cupcakes."

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