If I Were the Boss . . .

By Joe Davidson
Wednesday, August 20, 2008

When Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) or Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) starts work as president next year, he'll automatically get lots of perks without even passing a probationary period. He'll be able to fly without paying extra for baggage, food or decent leg room. He'll ride in a luxury car, but he won't have to pump fuel costing more than $4 a gallon. And he'll occupy the finest unit in all of public housing.

On the other hand, he'll also have to deal with some tricky issues involving the federal workplace. We asked the candidates about some of those issues. We ran McCain's responses yesterday. Here is what the Obama campaign told us.

Q Federal labor leaders complain that outside contractors perform jobs that should be done by government employees. Do you favor any suspension of contracting out activities? Do you favor legislation that would prohibit the IRS from using appropriated funds to hire private tax collectors?

ASen. Obama is concerned by the rising number of government contractors that are often unaccountable and frequently less efficient than government workers. As president, Obama will restore effective oversight of the government-contracting process and reduce our nation's increasing dependence on private contractors in sensitive or inherently governmental functions. Obama will eliminate the Bush administration's ideological bias towards outsourcing of government services and abandon initiatives, like the inefficient use of private bill collectors to collect federal taxes, that are a demonstrated waste of taxpayer money.

The Bush administration would like to see "pay for performance" replace the General Schedule pay system for federal workers. If elected, what would you do regarding pay for performance?

Obama wants to ensure that our federal workforce is working effectively and with real accountability. We can do that by providing more data on the effectiveness of government services, and working with federal employees to improve performance with quality leadership, effective training and career development, and honest information. Obama believes we must ensure that government compensation is fair and transparent so that we can continue to attract and retain talented workers to meet our needs.

The retirement of baby boomers means the government will need to replace many thousand employees in the coming years. What would you do to attract and retain talented federal workers?

Public service is important to America's future, and Obama wants to lead an effective, efficient government where people are proud to serve. Obama believes by reinvigorating our commitment to meet America's greatest challenges, we can inspire a generation to serve the public, many in the private not-for-profit sector, and many in government service as well. We can also streamline the process of applying for government jobs and follow the example of several agencies, such as the Government Accountability Office, which actively recruits on college campuses for people who can have long and rewarding careers in government service.

Generally speaking, what is your view of the service provided by federal civil servants?

As with any area, there is always some need for improvement as the federal government is a large workforce that is being asked to take on increasingly complex challenges in a demanding and dangerous world. Many federal workers are frustrated by the way Washington works and the inordinate role of special interests and political cronies in influencing policy. Obama believes we can do more to support the work of federal civil servants while raising the bar of performance and productivity. Obama will end the culture of cronyism and restore competence to leadership and management so that those who serve the public feel empowered and recommitted to their vital role.

If elected, you will be able to name almost 4,000 political appointees, more than a thousand of whom must be confirmed by the Senate. Are there too many political positions and too many that must be confirmed?

Obama will make sure that his appointees are qualified, with real-world experience in the areas they are tasked with overseeing, and his hope is that we can work with the Congress to streamline the appointments process so that critical positions are not left vacant for months and months.

The transition from the current administration to the next will significantly affect the federal workplace no matter who is elected. There is relatively little time between Election Day and the inauguration to conduct the transition. What are you doing now, if anything, to ensure a smooth transition?

Obama takes his responsibilities as a candidate seriously and if he is honored with the American people's confidence to become president, he will be prepared on day one for the challenges that await.

Joe Davidson can be reached atfederaldiary@washpost.com.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company