January 27, 2005


Civil Service System on Way Out at DHS: White House Wants All Agencies to Have Option of Setting Own Personnel Policies (Christopher Lee, January 27, 2005, Washington Post)

The Bush administration unveiled a new personnel system for the Department of Homeland Security yesterday that will dramatically change the way workers are paid, promoted, deployed and disciplined -- and soon the White House will ask Congress to grant all federal agencies similar authority to rewrite civil service rules governing their employees.

The new system will replace the half-century-old General Schedule, with its familiar 15 pay grades and raises based on time in a job, and install a system that more directly bases pay on occupation and annual performance evaluations, officials said. The new system has taken two years to develop and will require at least four more to implement, they said.

Under the new plan, employees will be grouped into eight to 12 clusters based on occupation. Salary ranges will be based, in part, on geographic location and annual market surveys by a new compensation committee of what similar employees earn in the private sector and other government entities. Within each occupational cluster, workers will be assigned to one of four salary ranges, or "pay bands," based on their skill level and experience.

A raise or promotion -- moving up in a pay range or rising to the next one -- will depend on receiving a satisfactory performance rating from a supervisor, said officials with homeland security and the Office of Personnel Management.

"We really have created a system that rewards performance, not longevity," OPM Director Kay Coles James said in a briefing for reporters. "It can truly serve as a model for the rest of the federal government." [...]

Leaders of federal employee unions, however, immediately denounced the new DHS system and any plans to expand it government-wide. They said the system would undermine the morale of homeland security employees and make it harder to attract and keep talented workers. They said they would file a lawsuit to block its new restrictions on collective bargaining and employee appeals. They conceded that such a move would do nothing to curtail the new pay system, however, which by 2009 will cover at least 110,000 of the department's 180,000 employees.

"They are encouraging a management of coercion and intimidation," said John Gage, president of the American Federation of Government Employees. He added: "This is not a modern system. This is a step backward."

The Civil Service Reform of the Progressive era, like most such reforms, proved disastrous in practice, creating a permanent professional bureaucracy that aggrandized power to itself relentlessly. The counter-Reformation the President has led, though largely uncomprehended by the Right, is one of his most important legacies.

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 27, 2005 9:59 AM

"Harder to attract and keep talented workers" by making it possible to pay and promote them more? Even I'm amazed that union reps are willing to say that in public.

Posted by: Annoying Old Guy at January 27, 2005 12:22 PM

OJ forgets what the federal government was like before civil service reform: populated by party hacks and incompetents who aggradized power to themselves relentlessly. (And inspiring crazies like Charles Guiteau, to boot.)

Posted by: Peter Caress at January 27, 2005 10:42 PM

Swept out every time party control switched.

Posted by: oj at January 27, 2005 10:51 PM

So just as someone finally learns how to do his job effectively (when he isn't out campaigning while on the job), he gets replaced by a fresh incompetent. Hooray!

The problem isn't the Civil Service Reform Act, it's the ridiculously strong government employee unions. (The growth of these unions was mostly a post-WWII phenomenon, I believe.)

Posted by: Peter Caress at January 27, 2005 11:33 PM

" learns how to do his job effectively" Good one!

Posted by: oj at January 27, 2005 11:45 PM