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  Daily Briefing  
July 23, 2003

House subcommittee approves GAO personnel reform bill

By Tanya N. Ballard

A House subcommittee Tuesday approved legislation that would give the General Accounting Office more personnel flexibilities.

With little fanfare, the House Government Reform Subcommittee on Civil Service and Agency Organization approved on voice vote the “GAO Human Capital Reform Act of 2003” (H.R. 2751), moving forward a proposal crafted by Comptroller General David Walker to make his agency a model workplace for the federal government. GAO is an independent legislative agency that examines management in executive agencies.

“As members of Congress, we heavily rely on GAO for its investigative skill and impartiality as we try to improve the performance and ensure the accountability of the federal government,” said Subcommittee Chairwoman Jo Ann Davis, R-Va., urging her colleagues to support the bill. “We rely specifically on the judgments of the comptroller general to manage his workforce to produce quality and timely information for our use. He has demonstrated his good faith and earned our confidence.”

GAO's bill would make permanent the agency's three-year-old congressional authority to offer early retirement and buyout incentives to its employees. The watchdog agency would no longer receive the governmentwide January pay raise and instead, the comptroller general would set annual pay raise levels, tying raises more closely to performance appraisal ratings. The bill would also create an exchange employee program with the private sector, expand the agency's ability to pay employee relocation expenses and change its name to the Government Accountability Office.

“I believe that GAO is a good demonstration project for reforms that may eventually be extended to the rest of the government,” said Rep. Danny Davis, D-Ill., who offered the only amendment to the legislation. Davis is ranking member of the subcommittee.

Davis' amendment would give managers the authority to increase leave for prospective GAO employees, according to a subcommittee staffer. That authority was limited to senior-level employees with less than three years experience in the original legislative proposal. Another part of the Illinois lawmaker's amendment would require GAO to submit periodic reports to Congress on how the legislation would be implemented if passed by Congress, and the effect of pay-for-performance on women and minorities. The amendment was approved on voice vote.

GAO employees are not represented by unions and can't negotiate changes in benefits or working conditions. Instead the agency has a 23-member Employees Advisory Council, which endorsed the bill during a recent hearing. During the hearing, Walker and Chris Keisling, a member of the council, described the outreach efforts used to gain employee support, which included televised chats, listening sessions, verbal and written feedback and a poll of Senior Executive Service members.

“Employee support is crucial to any new management system, and I applaud the comptroller for working with his employees in a collegial manner,” Chairwoman Davis said.

Several agencies, including NASA and the Defense Department, are seeking personnel flexibilities as Congress and the Bush administration discuss ways to reform the civil service, create a pay-for-performance environment and make hiring easier at federal agencies.

Davis and Davis expressed concern about the patchy process by which reform was happening in the executive branch.

“I am less concerned about this bill than I am about the process by which we are pursuing civil service reform. We should be concentrating our efforts on governmentwide reforms, rather than agency-by-agency requests,” Rep. Danny Davis said.

The bill is now headed to the full committee.

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  “GAO Human Capital Reform Act of 2003”
(H.R. 2751)

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