Bush administration developing governmentwide personnel reform bill

The Bush administration has drafted a civil service reform bill that proposes governmentwide implementation of a new system based on reforms that are being implemented at the Defense and Homeland Security departments.

The legislation is known as the 2005 Civil Service Modernization Act and a draft letter addressed to House and Senate leaders that accompanies the bill is signed by Dan G. Blair, acting director of the Office of Personnel Management. OPM officials said Tuesday that the bill is still being refined and has not yet been sent to Congress.

In the draft letter, which was obtained by Government Executive, Blair called the General Schedule pay framework a "failure" and proposed its complete removal by 2010.

According to a draft of the legislation, OPM proposes to implement a new civil service system with occupational pay groups, pay bands within those groups and pay for performance across the federal government. Agencies would be required to have a plan developed by 2008 for the implementation of an OPM-certified performance pay system. If agencies cannot meet that deadline, they would be required to adopt a standard OPM system.

Under the proposal, the General Schedule system that has governed the federal civil service since the late 1940s would be eliminated by 2010.

"We need a compensation system that does a far better job of reflecting differences in occupations, locations, and unique agency requirements," the OPM draft letter stated. "The General Schedule is a failure in this regard, with its rigid, 'one size fits all' approach masking often dramatic disparities in the market value of different federal jobs. We simply cannot afford to overpay for some occupations and underpay for others."

Under the new system, OPM and the Office of Management and Budget would annually adjust minimum and maximum pay levels for pay bands and for occupational groups. OPM and OMB would also set "local market supplements" to be added to the based federal pay levels.

Under the proposal, an agency would also be allowed, with OPM and OMB approval, to set pay rates in "key occupational groups" to "precisely reflect the value of those occupations to its unique mission."

In the area of labor relations, OPM's proposal would extend some but not all of the changes being implemented at Defense and DHS to the rest of government. "Bargaining (and agreement) in most instances would continue to be required before an agency could act, but only when a proposed management action had a significant, substantial and continuing adverse impact on employees," OPM said.

Under the bill, agencies would be allowed to meet with employees to discuss operational matters without first having to contact their union representatives. They will also be able to make minor changes in working conditions and "prepare for, or prevent any emergency or prevent any fiscal or budgetary exigency without bargaining with unions first."

The new proposal will have to go through the House Government Reform Committee, but its chairman, Tom Davis, R-Va., was noncommittal about the bill Tuesday.

"Last month, OMB said they planned to start lobbying the Senate and House authorizers after the Memorial Day recess," said committee spokesman Drew Crockett. "We will be meeting with administration officials within the next few weeks to learn more about the proposed civil service reforms. Congressman Davis should have more to say on the plans at that point."

The bill is likely to face intense scrutiny and skepticism from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. Some Democrats and labor unions have opposed portions of the Homeland Security and Defense personnel systems. The OPM letter said that the governmentwide system "picks up where these two leave off."

"The blueprint we offer seeks nothing less than to codify many of their results," Blair wrote. "This blueprint serves as the foundation for a 21st century civil service system."

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