Senators push middle-ground personnel reforms

Acknowledging missteps in the government's attempts to restructure personnel systems in federal agencies, two senators are trying in their own ways to move ahead with reforms, but employee unions continue to push back.

The chairman and ranking member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs subcommittee overseeing the federal workforce -- George Voinovich, R-Ohio, and Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii -- held a hearing Thursday on bills introduced to enhance training for federal managers, among other things.

After this week's appellate court ruling striking down the Homeland Security Department's new collective bargaining scheme, Voinovich said he regrets not requiring management to enter into binding arbitration with labor unions to create the system.

"The quote [unquote] negotiations where at the end management did what they wanted to didn't work so well," Voinovich said. "I'd like to get on with some of the other stuff we've been working on."

That other stuff includes S. 3492, a bill Voinovich introduced earlier this month that would deny annual raises and within-grade increases to employees who don't meet satisfactory performance levels, as well as require training for supervisors to better manage their employees.

Akaka introduced his own federal employee performance bill this week (S. 3584), to require that supervisors receive training during their first year on the job, retraining every three years and mandatory mentoring. Current managers would have three years to obtain their initial training.

"I know there are those who believe that the government should throw out the [General Schedule] because -- in their view - agency and employee performance has not improved," Akaka said. "I, on the other hand, believe that the lack of manager training is a primary reason the GS has not lived up to expectations."

The Government Managers Coalition -- a relatively new group made up of the Senior Executives Association, the Federal Managers Association, the Professional Managers Association and others -- identified mandatory training, and the budget to back it up, as one of four platforms.

FMA president Darryl Perkinson, who spoke on behalf of the GMC at Thursday's hearing of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight of Government Management, the Federal Workforce and the District of Columbia, said his group supports Akaka's bill because of its requirement for training funds. Perkinson also praised Voinovich's bill, though not to the same extent.

But union representatives stiffened at Voinovich's proposal, saying they had been burned by efforts so much in the past it was hard for them to trust any change.

Voinovich's bill, which seeks to withhold annual and within-grade pay raises from employees who don't receive satisfactory performance evaluations, is too punitive and threatening, said Jacqueline Simon, the American Federation of Government Employees' public policy director.

The legislation "assumes that fear of punishment is the best motivator," Simon said. "S. 3492 takes an emphatic position on the proverbial 'which works better, the carrot or the stick?' This is all stick and no carrot."

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