The government's 200,000 executives, managers and supervisors would be ranked and paid on the basis of their responsibilities -- rather than the size of their staffs -- under a draft proposal prepared by the Office of Personnel Management.

If adopted by OPM -- and accepted by those affected -- the new system would make it easier for bosses to reduce their work force voluntarily without fear that it would devalue their own jobs.

"The government never intended that the number of employes supervised would be a dominant factor in how much an executive is paid," an OPM official said Friday. "But that is the way it works in too many places."

He said guidelines under study would make it "much more attractive for a boss to say, 'Look, we can do this job with fewer people,' without putting his or her own job, status or GS grade level on the line."

In many instances the grade and pay of federal officials is determined not only by how many people they have under them, but also by the salary and grade level of their subordinates. "That is what we hope to get at in this new emphasis," the official said.

Under the new system, the bosses' grades and pay would be tied more closely to the amount of responsibility and accountability they have for projects, the independent authority they exercise and the level of people -- members of Congress, federal agency heads, governors, White House aides or mayors -- with whom they routinely deal. Points would be assigned for the kind of responsibility and authority attached to each job. Positions assigned the most points would rate the highest grade and salary levels.