Case for personnel reform varies by agency

A senior Bush administration official says civil service reform outside of the Defense and Homeland Security departments is needed to improve recruitment and retention.

The "business case" for overhauling the governmentwide pay system is different than justification for personnel changes at the Defense and Homeland Security departments, according to a senior Bush administration official.

Congress supported Defense and Homeland Security personnel reform because of the threat of terrorism and the need to support ongoing military operations overseas. Clay Johnson, the deputy director for management at the Office of Management and Budget, said governmentwide personnel restructuring is needed to improve recruitment and retention in the federal workforce.

The current Defense and Homeland Security personnel overhauls 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.

"We're not very good at managing people," Johnson said last week in a conversation with reporters. "The civil service we have now places almost all its emphasis on longevity, it rewards attendance … I'm thinking the federal government doesn't seem like the most attractive place to work if all employees are given the same raise every year."

Johnson said the revisions at Defense and Homeland Security will provide more flexibility.

"The business case for Homeland Security and Defense departments was, we are at war," Johnson said. "For instance, in the war on terror and defending our homeland … you might have an hour or half a day to make a personnel change."

Union leaders have opposed many of the proposed personnel changes, describing them as political power grabs enabled by a tense political situation. American Federation of Government Employees President John Gage sharply criticized Johnson for presenting a different justification for governmentwide personnel reform, calling it a "scam" and called it "completely absurd."

Johnson said that he held a series of focus groups in 2005 and he heard caution and enthusiasm from federal employees over the prospect of personnel reform. He met with about 200 total employees in Boston, Miami and Philadelphia.

"They said it's good and bad," he said. "It's all about the implementation."