Personnel chief sets timeline for pay reform efforts

Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry on Tuesday offered more details on the steps involved in achieving his vision for a governmentwide pay overhaul.

During a conference in Washington celebrating the 15th anniversary of the Coalition for Effective Change, an umbrella group of good-government organizations, the OPM chief said he planned to have a legislative proposal ready for President Obama to include in the fiscal 2011 budget this February. He added that he would like to see Congress pass a bill before the 2010 midterm elections.

"The legislative initiative the president introduces doesn't have to have every detail in it," Berry said. "My goal would be before the midterm elections, we would have a [bill] Congress could present to the president [to sign] and say this is the bridge, this is one we can come together on -- labor, management [and] senior executives."

A conversation about pay reform will start in earnest this fall, Berry said, after the board reviewing the Defense Department's National Security Personnel System releases its findings. The panel's report is due in August or early September, giving OPM officials an opportunity to examine the conclusions prior to a conference on federal human resources practices Berry plans to convene in September.

The conference will provide a forum for examining how the federal government can become a model employer and maintain its preeminence in areas where it outperforms the private sector, Berry said. Former Maryland Sen. Paul Sarbanes; Laszlo Bock, Google's vice president for people operations; and David Ellwood, dean of Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government, have agreed to chair the event, which will be open to the public. Berry said he hopes a range of people will attend and share their thoughts on overhauling the government's pay systems.

He also praised federal employee union leaders for their willingness to work on policy solutions, saying they were "among the most exciting, visionary people I've encountered," though he did not address their attitudes toward pay reform directly. The American Federation of Government Employees has said it would oppose alternatives to the General Schedule system, though other groups including the National Treasury Employees Union and National Federation of Federal Employees have said they would be open to moving away from the schedule as long as the replacement did not resemble pay-for-performance systems created during the Bush administration.

"[The solution] is not NSPS," Berry said. "I am not trying to advance anything that has been created to date. In my opinion, having been a manager now, and having worked at senior levels, every system I have used has critical flaws in it, whether it's the GS or any other system."

Berry said pay reform legislation could help address an array of issues, from pay compression for members of the Senior Executive Service to problems with pay grade assignments. And he reiterated the principles for pay reform he laid out during a May meeting with reporters: a strong performance management system that would narrow the gap between public and private sector salaries, and a revitalized training infrastructure for managers and employees.

Berry also signaled progress on an executive order reestablishing labor-management partnerships. A group of Democratic lawmakers wrote to the Obama administration on June 2 asking it to resurrect partnership councils created by President Clinton and rescinded by President Bush.

"There will be a partnership executive order at some point," Berry said. "It will happen. We're very close. The best solutions are always found through good, open, honest communication."

Lisa McGlasson, senior adviser to the deputy associate director for workforce relations and accountability policy at OPM, said during a later panel discussion that the executive order had not yet been written, but the agency was making strides.

Berry also said while hiring reform initiatives announced by Office of Management and Budget Director Peter R. Orszag in a memorandum to agency heads earlier in June were a strong start, they would be followed by several additional rounds of changes. In particular, Berry said agencies would be directed to stop using Knowledge, Skills and Abilities statements in job applications and have candidates submit résumés instead.

"The rest of the country is on résumés," Berry said. "We need to move toward the culture of the country."

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