Ready for more change?

Sen. George V. Voinovich (R-Ohio) plans to sponsor legislation next year that would make it easier for more federal agencies to experiment with pay and bonus systems by expanding the use of "demonstration projects."

At a luncheon sponsored by the Partnership for Public Service last week, Voinovich said recent legislation allowing the Department of Homeland Security to revamp its personnel and pay systems would spur other agencies, such as the Defense Department and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, to seek similar flexibilities.

Current law restricts the number of employees who can participate in personnel experiments to 5,000 and caps the number of projects that can be underway at once at 10. Voinovich said he will seek to loosen those rules so that more employees and more agencies can conduct pilot projects simultaneously.

In past years, federal union leaders have opposed removing limits on pilot projects because doing so would permit the White House to take entire agencies out of the traditional civil service system. Unions fear that Congress will not provide adequate budgets to finance personnel experiments and evaluate their effects.

The Ohio senator, who plans to chair a Senate governmental affairs subcommittee on government management when Congress reconvenes next year, said his legislation also would seek to enhance the use of recruitment, relocation and retention bonuses; require agencies to link their employee training activities with their performance plans; and allow agencies to offer higher salaries when filling critical jobs.

In addition, the proposed bill would revise federal rules on vacation so that mid-career professionals entering the government could have more leave time than currently permitted. Vacation time is an important consideration for two-career families, and the prospect of losing leave time often discourages people from applying for federal jobs, Voinovich said.

Since 1999, Voinovich has pushed for personnel policy changes in the government, contending that it needs a streamlined, flexible system to improve recruiting and cope with a coming wave of retirements.

Working with Senate Democrats, Voinovich succeeded in getting several government-wide policy changes into the homeland security bill. Under the new law, for instance, agencies will be able to offer $25,000 cash buyouts and early retirement when reorganizing and reshaping their workforces. In a bid to make it easier to recruit outsiders, the law allows agencies to set up new rating categories and hire from a larger pool of job applicants.

Unions Hope to Lure Screeners The American Federation of Government Employees has filed petitions to hold elections to represent passenger security screeners at Baltimore-Washington International Airport and New York's LaGuardia Airport.

The union is focusing on organizing screeners at the nation's 31 largest airports and hopes to file at least eight more election petitions with the Federal Labor Relations Authority before year's end, said Peter Winch, one of AFGE's top organizers.

The union's push comes at a sensitive time for the administration. Congress created the Transportation Security Administration after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and left it to the agency to decide whether screeners should have union rights.

The TSA has been silent about unionization, in part because President Bush decided to move the agency into the new Department of Homeland Security. With more than 40,000 screeners, the TSA will be one of the biggest agencies in the homeland consolidation.

Union rights seem likely to emerge as an issue at the homeland department. Seventeen unions with contracts covering 49,000 workers will transfer to the department next year. Congress has given the Bush administration a green light to revamp the department's work rules, including those in the labor-management arena.

AFGE seeks to represent 500 workers at BWI and 650 workers at LaGuardia. It contends that turnover rates among screeners has started to soar because of long work days and weekend hours.

TSA officials counter that almost everyone involved in the agency's startup have worked extra hours but added that only 1,009 screeners had quit as of mid-November. The voluntary resignations translate into a turnover rate of 2.3 percent, an agency spokesman said.

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