Next up on Capitol Hill for a pay system overhaul: the General
Comptroller General David M. Walker, the head of GAO, drew up a
plan to break away from the government's traditional pay practice -- an
annual raise regardless of job performance -- and more strongly link the
compensation of the GAO staff members to their skills and
"We are in the knowledge business," Walker said of GAO. "We are only as
good as the people we have. We have to be able to design our policies and
systems, including our pay systems, to be able to attract, retain and
motivate top talent. Whatever we end up doing is going to be geared to
doing just that."
As part of the change, Walker also will ask Congress for permission to
change the agency's name to the Government Accountability Office. He
thinks the proposed name more accurately reflects GAO's work, which tilts
toward program evaluation and policy analysis, while keeping one of
Washington's best-known acronyms.
Walker's plan, which he has developed over several months, goes to the
Hill at a time when the Defense Department is seeking significant changes
in its civil service personnel and pay rules and just months before the
Department of Homeland Security unveils a revamped pay and personnel
system for its employees.
Although GAO is an arm of Congress, its pay system originally was
modeled on the General Schedule, the white-collar pay and job
classification system used by much of the executive branch. Primary
features of the GS are a January pay adjustment, set by Congress after a
review of Labor Department wage trends, and a "locality pay" raise,
reflecting salary changes in large and medium-size cities and usually
determined by the president.
Unlike most federal agencies, GAO has modified its pay system. Over the
last two decades, the majority of the workforce has migrated to "pay
bands," which consolidated the 15-grade General Schedule into fewer
levels. The GAO staff, for the most part, also undergoes more rigorous job
evaluations than many of its executive branch counterparts.
Walker, in an interview, said he has submitted draft legislation to
Congress that would "decouple" GAO from the federal pay system. The House
civil service subcommittee will hold a hearing on the proposal July
Under Walker's plan, GAO employees who are meeting job expectations
would receive their annual pay adjustment in two parts -- a general
increase that would be given to all the staff, and a raise that would vary
depending on job performance.
The general increase would provide inflation protection and a locality
pay raise based on compensation studies conducted by GAO and tailored to
the agency's workforce.
The second part of the raise would hinge on the employee's level of
performance and that worker's pay band. Walker estimated that at least 95
percent of GAO's 3,200 employees will qualify for the performance-based
For employees, the proposed system carries some risks. Employees who
are rated as performing "below expectations" would not get an annual raise
of any type. If GAO found any employees to be overcompensated or if
employees were reassigned to a lower pay level as part of a
reorganization, they might not get pay raises until peers moved up to
their salary level.
Walker's plan initially created a stir inside GAO, but he has met with
members of GAO's employee advisory council, whose 23 members are elected
by co-workers, and has changed some parts of the plan in a bid to allay
employee concerns. For example, Walker has agreed to a two-year transition
for pay system changes as way to help ensure that persons near retirement
are not adversely affected, two council members said.
The employee council, the two members said, will carefully watch the
implementation of the pay changes in an attempt to make certain they roll
out in a fair and consistent manner.
Although most employees have not objected to the proposed name change,
some oppose any renaming, partly because of their sense of tradition.
Others contend that any name change should reflect a stronger affiliation
with the legislative branch.
"Change is difficult," Walker said. But, he added: "We are already in
the vanguard of reform and we are dedicated to staying there. . . . We
have a responsibility to be as good or better than those that we audit,
evaluate and investigate."
Stephen Barr's e-mail:email@example.com.