Opinion: Fed workforce reforms should focus on pay system

After perhaps the White House most committed to tearing up the federal employment rule book—that is, existing workplace merit principles, laws and regulations—the new Biden administration has halted that push, and aims to reverse such recent changes.

Most unions and employee groups, like the new administration, regard many of the last administration’s workplace “reforms” as harmful to morale, recruiting and retention.

Yet a debate remains, as some experts argue federal agencies still face civil service H.R. problems that require profound reform. In a new opinion piece on GovExec.com, a former Trump administration official—Peter Warren, former senior advisor at OPM—presents such a picture, arguing that certain private sector-inspired lessons initiated in recent years at agencies should continue to be developed, even if others might be abandoned by the new administration.

Where to start? Warren says the new White House and Congress should begin by trying to re-work federal employee pay and other compensation.

Citing portions of recent work by James L. Perry, an Indiana University professor emeritus of public administration (one critical of many Trump administration policies), Warren says focusing first on revamping the pay system in places to resemble private-sector trends could improve, the hiring, firing and operational aspects of the federal workplace.

Specifically, Warren states that a better federal workforce would require better use of existing employee data, data which if more intelligently deployed could offer many clues on how to improve recruitment and retention, as well as morale. Warren argues too that making compensation less constricted as it is under current standardized government pay bands, and instead placed under more flexible, “market-sensitive” systems paralleling private-sector occupations and their differing criteria and wider ranges of compensation.

Any comparison of both experts’ plans should note that unlike Indiana University’s Perry—indeed parting with a cornerstone of his prescription—Warren argues his pay reforms would not permit feds to bargain collectively over compensation, which he sees as destructive to the federal workforce.

Perry, to the contrary, sees bargaining over pay as helpful in raising the relevance of federal employee unions and leading to better outcomes for all stakeholders.

Reader comments

Fri, Apr 2, 2021

This president was mentored by Obama who froze federal salaries for three years. Do not expect that any thing positive will come out of this new administration.

Wed, Mar 31, 2021 Sergio CA

OPM should also look at some of the job descriptions used by some agencies. Computer assistant, for one, we are so far from that job description that it all needs to fall under Information Technology job description. Some agencies do not want to pay extra because of the job description title. It is not even that much more a year. I know people who are doing less than me and are getting paid more for the same job.

Wed, Mar 31, 2021 Sam

Federal jobs pay has not kept up. But it’s still better than a lot maybe even most companies in medium level stuff. That’s what I find.

Wed, Mar 31, 2021

It seems telling that the “expert” wants to make federal employment more like private industry market-driven, but without collective bargaining protection. The same abusive treatment by unrestrained management seen now in private industry, would appear in government, if labor must depend on management for “fairness” without collective bargaining. We got a taste of this under Trump.

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2021 Digital Almanac

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