Senator vows to push for more personnel flexibilities

After his success in getting several personnel reform measures into the recently signed homeland security act, Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio, plans to push for more federal human resources flexibilities next year.

Voinovich, who is slated to chair the Governmental Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight of Government Management, Restructuring and the District of Columbia, announced plans Tuesday to introduce a "Federal Workforce Flexibility Act of 2003," when Congress returns in January. Parts of the bill were included in legislation (S. 2651) the senator introduced last June. Voinovich unveiled the new bill during a luncheon sponsored by the Partnership for Public Service, a nonprofit group focused on improving the government's recruitment and retention record.

"They are good government things and from a public policy point of view, they should be adopted," Voinovich said.

The legislation will focus on expanding the use of demonstration, or pilot, projects that experiment with pay banding, performance bonuses and other changes to the traditional General Schedule pay scale; linking training activities with performance plans; and revising recruitment, retention and relocation bonus rules. Other provisions would reform the annual leave policy to allow agencies to count an equal number of years of prior professional service as federal service for the purposes of leave accrual and allow all senior-level employees to accrue eight hours per biweekly pay period. The bill would also include streamlined critical pay authority for agencies, enabling them to use higher salaries to attract employees needed for critical positions in the federal government.

"The fact is, most organizations worth a tinker's damn spend a lot of money on training," Voinovich said. "How do you run a business without training your people? Not only does that make them better workers, it helps with recruiting."

Voinovich used the recruitment efforts of sports leagues as an example of how the federal government should run its shop.

"They try to recruit the best and the brightest, and when they get them, they try and keep them, and the federal government has ignored that very, very important ingredient," he said.

In his new role as subcommittee chairman, Voinovich plans to work closely with Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, who will take the helm of the Governmental Affairs Committee in January. The senator said he hopes to see the committee focus on reforming federal programs and agencies the General Accounting Office has designated as "high-risk," because of their increased tendency for fraud, waste, abuse and mismanagement.

"We're going to really try to have a strategy about where the Governmental Affairs Committee is going this next couple of years," Voinovich said. "It just seems we're like a leaf meandering down the stream [right now], and there's no real direction and too often the hearings are held on the flavor of the month."

Voinovich said he was uncertain about whether he would join House lawmakers in pushing for a 4.1 percent pay increase for federal workers in 2003, but that he was sure that the current pay structure needed to change.

The senator said he would prefer allowing agencies to give federal workers a little less than the 3.1 percent raise, and allocating a few additional dollars to reward good performers.

"I have always said that federal government workers are better workers than people in the private sector if you give them the tools and the training and the empowerment and a reasonable wage. It may not be a competitive wage with the private sector, but if it's reasonable, I think that makes a difference," Voinovich said. "I plan to continue to act as a fighter for federal employees."

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