Editorial: What are the issues?

In the coming months, we will offer thoughts about the issues that the presidential candidates should address.

It appears that government management and performance are going to be issues in the upcoming presidential elections. Last week in this spot, we suggested that the government information technology community, which knows more about those issues than anybody else, should take advantage of that spotlight to outline what the issues are and offer some recommendations.

In the coming months, Federal Computer Week will offer thoughts about the issues that the candidates should address.

Issue one: People
Clearly, any discussion about government operations must address people. Some recommendations:

  • Eliminate the term “human capital.” With all due respect to Comptroller David Walker, the term is just awful and, frankly, demeaning. It is too antiseptic. It is important to remember that we are dealing with people, and human capital makes us forget that. The term also undercuts the importance of this issue.
  • Tackle the pay issue. There is simply no way to address the government’s workforce problems without addressing pay. This problem is particularly pronounced in the IT field, where the gap between public- and private-sector pay is large. But pay is also a concern throughout government. The government needs to pay people what they are worth. If agencies want to hire the best and the brightest, they need to pay competitive wages.
  • Revisit pay for performance. The Bush administration tried to force a pay-for-performance plan on government workers. Although it failed, some tenets of that plan have merits. The government’s pay plan is antiquated. It was designed for the type of employee who took a job and stayed with the same employer for most of his or her career. Today’s workers are looking for challenges, and they want to get rewarded if they are successful. The Bush administration’s take-it-or-leave-it approach did not work, but there is an opportunity to develop a new, more modern government pay system that can help agencies accomplish their missions if a new administration is willing to bring all the interested parties together.