Bush administration expanding personnel reform quickly

Senior personnel officials say that there is no benefit in waiting for results from changes at the Defense and Homeland Security departments.

The Bush administration is not waiting for the Defense and Homeland Security departments to complete their personnel overhauls before moving the effort to the larger federal government, a senior Bush administration official said Friday.

The current Defense and Homeland Security personnel overhauls are designed to scrap the General Schedule system, implement performance pay, limit union bargaining and streamline the appeals process. Officials at the Office of Personnel Management developed legislation last month that would extend similar changes to the rest of the federal workforce. Some lawmakers, however, have called on the Bush administration to wait for results from the ongoing overhauls.

Clay Johnson, the deputy director for management at the Office of Management and Budget, said that every agency will deal with personnel reform differently, and there is no benefit in waiting for results from Defense or Homeland Security.

"We should not wait to see what happens at DoD or Homeland Security; these are all independent events," Johnson said during a conference call with reporters. "There are some agencies, in my opinion, that could more readily implement [reform] than DoD or DHS."

According to the draft legislation, agencies would be required to have a plan developed by 2008 for the implementation of an OPM-certified performance pay system. If agencies cannot meet that deadline, they would be required to adopt a standard OPM system. The plan calls for the General Schedule system to be eliminated by 2010.

The proposed legislation has not yet been sent to Congress, and OPM officials have declined to discuss it. On Friday, Johnson said the bill would be sent to lawmakers "in the weeks ahead."

In February, Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio, said that he wanted to see results from the first reforms before the initiative was "cascaded" to other agencies. He acknowledged that he has a difference of opinion with the Bush administration, but he said he would try to slow the timeline.

Union leaders criticized the faster timeline.

"I think it's pretty arrogant. The final regulations aren't even written at the Department of Defense, and at DHS the implementation is far down the line," said John Gage, president of the American Federation of Government Employees. "At the minimum, wait to get some experience in this."

Johnson also said that federal employees would not have their salaries lowered in the new system. Gage, however, said that he believed the underlying motivation for the new pay system was to lower federal pay levels.

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