Pushing Personnel Reform

Kay Frances Dolan, FAA's personnel director, spent many years as an Office of Personnel Management staffer studying other agencies' staffing and pay experiments. So Dolan was delighted to get a once-in-a-lifetime chance to create an FAA personnel system unfettered by most of the requirements of civil service law. But she was initially daunted by the time frame. Congress expected an accounting by April 1, just over four months after legislation permitting reform took effect. Looking back, Dolan says the tight deadline was "not a bad thing. I think it's pretty extraordinary what can be done in a short time and the power of a deadline in focusing people on getting things done."

After the legislation was signed, Dolan went about forming task forces to reform compensation, staffing, labor relations, training, executive systems and performance management. The goal was to work jointly with unions and employees. Task force members were drawn from all levels, locations and types of FAA work to make sure all points of view were represented. A personnel reform advisory group set guiding principles, and in December task forces decamped to a single floor in a nearby office building so they could easily work together.

The task forces did their own research, studied best practices from government and private industry and were assisted by consultants. Representatives of other agencies and private firms, along with academics and experts from groups like the National Academy for Public Administration and the Council for Excellence in Government probed and challenged task force proposals. Only a few significant reforms were ready by April 1. Time was too short to complete the most wide-ranging changes, such as the move to a new pay and benefits system. Major innovations:

  • FAA-specific hiring registers and on-the-spot hiring for hard-to-fill jobs.
  • Shorter and more standardized job descriptions.
  • Faster promotions via lifting time-in-grade restrictions.
  • Reorganizing FAA into 7 lines of business with their own gain-sharing programs allowing employees to share in cost savings.
  • Grievance procedures for nonbargaining unit employees whose appeals no longer will go to the Merit Systems Protection Board, but to a panel of three: a management representative, an employee representative and an arbitrator.
  • Downsizing processes that could include job exchanges and buyouts.
  • An executive system outside the Senior Executive Service.
  • Awards and performance appraisals at the team and organizational level.
  • An agencywide labor-management partnership council and a national employees' forum to handle equal opportunity, affirmative action and diversity.
  • Training improvements to encourage self-development and move training funds and courses within the control of lines of business.
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