GAO seeks personnel flexibility, name change

General Accounting Office chief David Walker has proposed legislation that would give the congressional watchdog agency freedom from key personnel restrictions contained in Title 5 of the U.S. Code, and would change the name of the agency to the Government Accountability Office.

The bill would give GAO permanent authority to offer early retirement and buyout incentives to employees. Three years ago, Congress granted GAO temporary authority, lasting until Dec. 31, to offer such incentives. Since then, according to GAO, 78 employees have taken early retirement, nearly all of them high-level supervisors and managers. GAO hasn't offered buyouts under the law, and in a memo to agency employees obtained by Government Executive, Walker said GAO does not "have any plans to do so at this time."

The legislation would also give GAO wide latitude to create a performance-oriented pay system of its own design. Walker has long pushed for Congress to tie federal pay rates across government more closely with employees' performance. "It seems clear that we need to fundamentally re-think our approach to federal pay and develop an approach that places a greater emphasis on a person's knowledge, skills, position and performance rather than the passage of time, the rate of inflation and their geographic location," Walker wrote in a recent letter to Government Executive.

A corollary to the performance-pay provision would modify Title 5 rules regarding the grade and pay of employees who are demoted during workforce restructuring efforts. In his memo, Walker said "GAO employees would not have their basic rate of pay cut under this provision. However, future pay increases would be set consistent with the pay parameters of the person's new position."

In connection with the changes, Walker told employees the agency's name should be changed to the Government Accountability Office "to more accurately reflect the work of the agency as a multi-disciplinary professional services organization rather than an agency that pre-audits government vouchers, as was the case in 1921 when GAO was first created."

Other proposals in the legislation would give GAO greater flexibility in reimbursing employees for relocation expenses, allow the agency to offer experienced candidates for high-level positions increased amounts of annual leave, and authorize the creation of an executive exchange program with private sector organizations.

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