The Monday morning quarterbacks favor calling a timeout before making a run at civil service reform.

After reading last week's column about three states that turned their civil service systems upside down, several employees suggested that more research needs to be done in the area of "at will" employment before even thinking of trying that approach in the federal government.

For instance, Georgia state employees hired after July 1996 can be fired without cause, have no seniority rights and have no guarantee of an annual pay raise. With each Georgia agency able to set personnel rules, the state has seen job titles, usually with higher salaries, grow by a third, according to a report sponsored by the IBM Endowment for the Business of Government.

Some employees, however, expressed frustration with the federal personnel system, which they contended makes it difficult to clear out deadwood.

"Maybe the system implemented in Georgia would be a bit harsh for the civil service (and foreign service, which I happen to be a member of), but I can fully understand, and endorse, the federal government's apprehension toward the Department of Homeland Security falling under the same rules against discipline and firing," wrote one State Department employee, who asked not to be identified.

"As a federal employee, by far the most frustrating aspect of my work is putting up with the gross incompetence and downright laziness of some federal employees, because they know they cannot be fired. It puts a far greater burden on the rest of us who are truly dedicated to our work."

James Colvard, a former longtime Defense Department employee who later served as deputy director of the Office of Personnel Management in the Reagan administration, said he thought new personnel rules could be developed that would provide job protections for federal employees during most of their careers while giving agencies the leeway to reshape workforces.

"I think a compromise on the Homeland Security Department personnel argument might be as follows," Colvard wrote.

"For the first five years of employment, new employees would be under 'employment at will,' which would allow the employer to determine the employees' suitability before converting them to current civil service rules. During this period, the employee would have all the benefits of a regular employee, except retention rights.

"After five years the [employees] would be converted to the current federal civil service status and continue in that status until they were eligible for optional retirement, at which time they would revert to 'employment at will.'

"This would accord management flexibility at both ends of the employment time span and accord the [employees] maximum protection during the period when they are buying a home, raising and educating their children, etc. It would also eliminate the concept of retiring on the job," Colvard said.

Allen Pushes for 2003 Pay Raise Deal If next year's federal pay raise cannot be sent to the president in a fiscal 2003 appropriations bill, Sen. George Allen (R-Va.) thinks the raise should be included in legislation that keeps the government operating on an interim basis.

Federal employees appear on track for a 4.1 percent pay raise next year, but the deal has not been sealed because of disputes over fiscal 2003 spending priorities. Most Washington area lawmakers have written President Bush to urge his support for the raise, but Allen opted to make his plea to Senate Majority Leader Thomas A. Daschle (D-S.D.) last month.

"Unfortunately," Allen wrote, "it appears unlikely that the full Senate will have the opportunity to consider the Treasury-Postal appropriations legislation that provides for a 4.1 percent pay adjustment for federal employees. I strongly urge you to include this pay increase in any long-term continuing resolution that may be adopted in closing days of this session."

Continuing resolutions permit agencies to continue spending at fiscal 2002 levels. If a continuing resolution ran into next year, House Appropriations Committee Chairman C.W. Bill Young (R-Fla.) has warned that agencies would have to absorb the pay raise. "This will make it much more difficult for agencies to operate . . . and result in widespread layoffs and furloughs," he said last month.

In his letter to Daschle, Allen blamed the delay in approving a 2003 pay raise on "the dawdling and procrastination that afflicts the Senate today."

Federal Diary Live Richard G. Miles, president of the Government Employees Hospital Association, will take questions about the 2003 federal employees health insurance program at noon Wednesday at www.washingtonpost.com.

Stephen Barr's e-mail address is barrs@washpost.com.