Editorial: Time for a fresh start

Few people think the government's General Schedule pay system works well.

Increasingly few people believe that the federal government’s existing pay system isn’t broken, perhaps severely broken.

One-third of agency chief human capital officers said the government should scrap the government’s General Schedule pay system, according to a recent survey of chief human capital officers conducted by the Partnership for Public Service and Grant Thornton.

The government’s pay system is simply no longer adequate, said the survey respondents — 55 federal human resources officials from 28 major departments and agencies and more than a dozen small agencies. A change in how federal employees are paid appears to be less a question of if, than how, according to the survey report, “Federal Human Capital: the Perfect Storm.”

Those findings represent a real opportunity for a new administration. There is eagerness for change.

Federal Computer Week’s annual “Best Agencies for Federal IT Workers” study, published in this week’s issue, also provides hints about opportunities. For the third year running, our survey finds that feds generally love what they do. They believe in the government’s — and their agency’s — mission. They believe their work is public service in the best sense.

The government must work  with its employees to develop a pay system that is more modern, agile, flexible and fair.

The Bush administration has taken some steps by creating pay-for-performance programs at the Defense and Homeland Security departments. But they represent only one step. They have largely foundered because administration officials have refused to involve employees in discussions about the particulars of  those programs.

Again, government workers believe in the work they do. The government’s pay system needs to help agencies find the talents they need to accomplish their important missions.

Discussions about pay changes are not easy, as the Government Accountability Office has discovered.  Its pay changes triggered a campaign to unionize GAO employees.

Such discussions are probably more difficult in the public sector than in the private sector. However, it is vitally important to have them if the government is going to work effectively.


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