President renews pledge to reform personnel system

President Bush reaffirmed his commitment to replacing the federal personnel system with one that is more performance-based in his 2006 budget proposal released Monday.

Job competitions, quicker financial reporting, and an emphasis on results have increased overall efficiency, the budget stated.

Joshua Bolten, director of the Office of Management and Budget, pointed to the savings generated by the President's Management Agenda, couching them in terms of freedom, security and growth.

Bolten called the personnel reforms, which started at the Defense and Homeland Security departments, "important flexibilities that we managed to put in place." The proposed Homeland Security changes would replace the traditional personnel system with a pay-for-performance system and limit collective bargaining.

"I think, actually, it's something that a lot of the federal workforce should welcome, because it is a shift much more toward rewarding performance, rather than longevity," Bolten said.

The Bush administration stated in the budget proposal that it intends to apply such reforms governmentwide: "It is also important that these flexibilities be granted to all agencies so that they can make the greatest use of their personnel to achieve their own important missions. The administration will be working this year to extend similar personnel reforms to other federal agencies."

While the budget did not contain new management initiatives in the federal government, it reinforced the administration's commitment to management changes.

"There's a little more force behind it, but not dramatically so," said Allen Schick, a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank.

According to the proposal, public-private job competitions held under the administration's competitive sourcing initiative, one of the pillars of the President's Management Agenda, will save taxpayers $2.5 billion over the next five years. Defense, the agency that holds the largest number of competitions, will save more than $6 billion from competitions held between 2001 and 2006.

Competitive sourcing will improve performance while reducing agencies' costs 10 percent to 40 percent. "The administration will continue to work with the Congress to remove legislative restrictions on competitive sourcing so that all federal agencies have full use of this important management tool," the report stated.

The budget proposal also pointed to savings from the e-government initiative, which focuses on shifting from paper-based to electronic systems. Consolidating payroll systems, for example, is projected to save $1.1 billion over the next decade.

"By focusing on our priorities, we are making progress and bringing down the size of the deficit in 2006 and beyond," Bolten explained.

The budget included a 1 percent proposed cut in nonsecurity discretionary spending, representing the first decline since the Reagan administration.

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