GAO, union reach agreement on 2008 pay raises

The first-ever labor union at the Government Accountability Office has reached a tentative agreement with management on how the 2008 pay raise will be determined for the agency's 1,800 analysts.

Under the agreement, all permanent agency employees who receive a rating of "meets expectations" or higher are guaranteed an overall pay increase of 4.49 percent, a raise equal to what Washington-area General Schedule employees received this year. High-performing analysts at the independent legislative agency will be eligible for performance-based increases above that figure.

The only analysts who will not receive the 4.49 percent pay boost are the agency's probationary employees, who will receive a 3.5 percent across-the-board increase. Probationary employees are temporary workers who have the opportunity to become permanent after a certain amount of time. Unlike other analysts, probationary employees will get another raise in six months amounting to more than the 4.49 percent figure.

The move comes more than a month after the rest of the federal workforce saw across-the-board and locality-based increases in their paychecks. The union said the delay was necessary to ensure pay parity with the executive branch and to guarantee that every GAO employee who achieves a rating of "meets expectations" or above would earn an annual adjustment.

Analysts have until the close of business on Thursday to vote on the pay proposal. All salaries will be retroactive to Jan. 6.

The agreement is likely to please many House lawmakers, who sent a letter to Comptroller General David M. Walker on Jan. 30, calling for parity in pay adjustments between GAO and the rest of the federal government.

"GAO employees are no less valued than their counterparts in the federal workforce, and we believe they should be included in the rest of the federal workforce when it comes to parity," the lawmakers wrote. "Denying GAO employees the congressionally approved pay adjustment of 4.49 percent for 2008 would weaken pay comparability within the federal sector and the private sector."

Many analysts indicated on Monday that the agreement was a good first step to ensuring what they call "pay justice" at GAO. In 2006 and 2007, Walker reassigned 800 of 1,200 senior analysts to a lower pay category and froze pay increases for hundreds of employees, arguing that a 2004 study conducted by consulting firm Watson Wyatt determined that many GAO analysts were paid above market levels.

Dissatisfaction over the pay changes was one of the major driving factors behind unionization at the agency. The pay restructuring also has come under harsh criticism from many lawmakers and other human capital experts.

"The agreement is one inch back toward pay justice, but does not constitute complete pay justice," said Robert Kershaw, a senior analyst who joined GAO in the 1970s. "We still have a long ways to go to make restitution."

The 2008 pay raise was the first priority on the union's agenda. The union also seeks a long-term agreement covering pay issues and other employee policies, such as performance management systems.

Several analysts said Monday that one of the proposals the union will push for is 360-degree feedback performance evaluations, which give employees the opportunity to review their managers. Another proposal could require explanations for employee ratings. Specific feedback is not included now in evaluations, only performance ratings are documented.

"We're looking for a model [pay system] around this town," said one GAO analyst, adding that the Pentagon's new National Security Personnel System may be the best model to follow.

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