"What we are pushing in practice is the idea of putting together [similar] functions that have become separated and not very well organized or coordinated, putting them together and giving them a lot more flexibility…in terms of hiring, firing, promoting and recruiting," former Federal Reserve Board Chairman Paul Volcker, who headed the commission, said Monday.
The 10-member commission spent the past year reviewing the government's organization, personnel systems and outsourcing strategies, and then issued 14 recommendations for improving the public service. Commission members concluded that revitalizing federal operations required wholesale reorganization, giving the president fast-track authority to rearrange federal agencies and departments as needed, realigning congressional committees to match agency missions and more personnel flexibilities.
"The vision that is seen here is super-departments," Volcker said. "Combine as many operating agencies that have a rational connection with each other as possible…then appoint a manager and let him have the tools to get the job done."
Volcker said the commission advocates reducing the number of political appointees and providing a broader role for career federal officials to manage the new departments.
"You can't run the government very effectively by having a bunch of mostly political appointed officials come in here for two years…[and] their principal concern is getting in and getting out…and trying to make some kind of a reputation in Washington and getting a better job when they leave. The emphasis is on continuity," Volcker said.
Other recommendations in the council's report include improving the presidential appointments process; increasing judicial, legislative and executive salaries; creating policies that allow agencies to bring federal salaries in line with private sector salaries; more judicious use of competitive sourcing measures; and dividing the Senior Executive Service into an Executive Management Corps and a Professional and Technical Corps.
"We don't want to force technical types to become managers because that is the only way they can get [salary] increases," said Volcker.
But agencies already have the authority to place any senior executive without managerial responsibilities into a senior-level position, according to Carol Bonosaro, president of the Senior Executives Association. Bonosaro said the commission is "content to let the pay compression pot simmer while the administration and Congress devise and implement a new recipe for the structure of the corps."
Bonosaro also emphasized the many top management positions require technical, scientific or professional skills for success. "Management and leadership are seldom, if ever, content free," Bonosaro said. "It is important to distinguish between Senior Executive positions that require technical, scientific or professional competencies for success, and high level technical, scientific or professional positions."
Volcker admitted the report's recommendations are broad, but said he hopes they will spark debate in Congress.
"Nobody has really looked at the federal government in a very comprehensive way since the Hoover Commission, which was about 50 years ago," Volcker said.
The commission's recommendations build on recommendations made by a previous Volcker-led commission in 1989. The current commission members include former Sen. Bill Bradley, D-N.J.; former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin; former Secretary of Health and Human Services Donna Shalala; former Defense Secretary Frank Carlucci; former Office of Personnel Management Director Constance Horner; former Office of Management and Budget Director Franklin Raines; former Rep. Vin Weber, R- Minn.; former Reagan Chief of Staff Kenneth Duberstein; and former Comptroller General Charles Bowsher.
Max Stier, president and CEO of the Partnership for Public Service, praised the commission's suggestions. "The Volcker Commission recommendations are the right prescription, and the Partnership stands ready to assist the administration and Congress in fulfilling it," Stier said.
But Colleen Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, criticized the commission for overlooking budgetary constraints facing agencies and the pay of front-line federal employees.
"A recommendation to increase the pay of top officials is especially damaging to employee morale coming on the heels on a 2003 pay raise for federal employees that is lower than what Congress supported, and amid recent revelations that the current administration has reinstituted bonuses for political appointees," Kelley said.