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
“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
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.