Senator says legislative, SES pay should not be linked

Senior executives' pay and congressional salaries should not be linked, a key lawmaker said Wednesday during a speech on the government's hiring problems. "We [Congress] need to look at the tie between legislative pay and Senior Executive Service pay, and we ought to eliminate it," said Sen. George V. Voinovich, R-Ohio, to federal managers during the annual Excellence in Government conference in Washington. The current salary scale (including both base pay and locality pay) for those at the top of the Senior Executive Service is capped at $133,700, the rate of Level III of the political pay scale that covers members of Congress and Cabinet officials. The political pay scale's Level IV, which is $125,700 this year, is the cap on career executives' base pay. Congress has voted to block political pay raises every year since 1993, except for 1998, 2000 and 2001. Over time, more and more career executives have seen their salaries reach the pay cap, so that now executives at the top three of the six SES levels all earn the same amount of money. In eight cities, federal executives at the top four levels are all paid the same. Despite Voinovich's efforts to focus on improving federal pay at all levels, simply increasing pay will not solve the government's problems when it comes to attracting and keeping a skilled workforce, the senator said. Instead, Voinovich favors using existing tools such as recruitment and retention bonuses and student loan repayments as incentives. Voinovich said federal workers deserve "recognition and respect" for the work that they do. "We need to stop bashing people who work in government," Voinovich said. "They are the best-motivated workers we have when they are given the tools, compensation and empowerment to get the job done." Voinovich, who has tried to focus attention on the government's recruitment and retention problems, said he is putting together a legislative package that calls for instituting a federal chief human resources officer, reforming the federal hiring process, improving government benefits for employees, and providing more money and opportunities for job training. The Excellence in Government 2001 conference, co-hosted by Government Executive, runs through Friday at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel in Washington.