Federal Employees News Digest

Opinion piece: Workforce reforms should focus on fed 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.

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