OPM Nominee Reassures Senators About Pay and Personnel Changes

By Stephen Barr
Thursday, June 16, 2005

The president's nominee to head the Office of Personnel Management said yesterday that she was "deeply aware" that many federal employees are anxious about Bush administration plans to overhaul pay policies and promised to work for "fair and effective" personnel reform.

Linda M. Springer , nominated April 4 by President Bush to be the next director at OPM, told the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee that she is committed to training federal managers in how to administer performance-based pay and to opening a "very strong line of communication" with federal union leaders.

Springer, who previously served as controller at the Office of Management and Budget, appears on track for confirmation. Sen. George V. Voinovich (R-Ohio), the hearing chairman, said he was "very impressed" with Springer, and Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) told her that "OPM needs strong and decisive leadership, and I believe you have those qualifications."

The Bush administration has launched the departments of Defense and Homeland Security on some of the most significant changes seen in the civil service in decades. The administration also is preparing legislation that would extend some of the Defense and Homeland Security changes to the rest of the government.

The administration's proposal would abolish the General Schedule, which features predictable pay raises, by 2010 and replace it with broad salary ranges known as "pay bands." Raises would be based on occupation, labor market rates and job performance ratings.

Federal labor leaders are skeptical that agencies will impose performance-based pay fairly. In addition, unions that represent Defense and Homeland Security workers have been roiled by Bush's plan to sharply curb their bargaining rights and to create internal boards, controlled by the departments, that would rule in labor-management disputes.

Springer, in response to a question from Sen. Thomas R. Carper (D-Del.), said employees were right to be concerned about whether their job performance would be fairly judged. She suggested that the administration will try to reassure them by making sure that managers are well trained and that the systems come with safeguards, including OPM oversight.

The administration may select a few well-managed agencies, such as the Social Security Administration, to lead the way in imposing government-wide changes in pay and performance, Springer said.

Although Voinovich cautioned that making such changes takes time and requires sustained effort, Springer suggested that the administration does not want to wait to judge how new pay systems fare at the departments of Defense and Homeland Security.

She told Pryor that she believed the government should move "sooner rather than later" to a performance-based model because agencies without flexible pay systems will be at risk of "talent flight" and "talent drain." She said the government already has seen instances of employees transferring to agencies that hold out the chance to compete for higher compensation.

Federal unions have contended that creating more rigorous systems to link pay raises to job ratings will erode teamwork in the government, and Pryor asked Springer if she was aware of any large-scale pay-for-performance system that has been successfully implemented for law enforcement officers.

Springer said no but stressed that she believed in the value of performance pay because of her private-sector experience. She said that half of her salary as a corporate executive had been contingent upon the performance of others, including employees she did not directly oversee.

Given the controversy at the Defense Department over developing new pay and personnel rules, Voinovich told Springer that "it is very important that you have the courage to speak out." Voinovich noted that Springer had worked at OMB, where some of the ideas for new workplace rules have been developed, and said she will face "times [where] you will have to put your foot down."

Springer agreed that OMB officials, such as Clay Johnson III , the deputy director for management and a longtime Bush friend, "are not bashful people" but assured Voinovich she would be willing to speak up for OPM's interests.

She said she would be making a mistake to take the job "if I'm not willing to do this."


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