The Volcker commission said yesterday it's time to blow up the civil service system.
The commission recommended abolishing the General Schedule, the pay and job classification system for the government's nearly 1.8 million white-collar employees. It proposed splitting the Senior Executive Service, which covers the top 6,000 career employees, into two parts. It called for more government reorganization.
Members of the National Commission on the Public Service acknowledged that it would take several years to implement the recommendations. Paul A. Volcker, the commission's chairman, called the report an "architectural rendering" and suggested that Congress, the Bush administration and others would have to write a blueprint to make the recommendations reality.
Like other groups that have recently looked into government operations, the commission was influenced in its work by the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, which has been given leeway to change pay and personnel rules for its employees.
"The federal government is neither organized nor staffed nor adequately prepared to meet the demands of the 21st century," the commission report said, adding, "If we do not make the necessary changes now, when our needs are clear, we will be forced to cope with the consequences later in crisis after crisis."
The report recommended reorganizing the government around common missions into a "limited number" of departments. Agencies inside the departments "should be run by managers chosen for their operational skills and given the authority to develop management and personnel systems appropriate to their missions," the report said.
To improve "operational effectiveness," the commission said, each agency should make "a commitment to designing a personnel system that best supports its own mission. But that cannot happen until we have seen the last of the General Schedule."
Each agency could adopt a pay system to meet its needs. As a default system, the commission recommended consolidating the 15 GS pay grades into six to eight bands with wide salary ranges. "Managers would be able to determine individual pay based on competence and performance," the report said.
The government's top career employees, the members of the Senior Executive Service, would be split into a Professional and Technical Corps and an Executive Management Corps. Pay for the technical and scientific specialists would be based on labor market trends, while compensation for the management corps would be "similar across the government," the report said.
In general, the report recommended that Congress allow agencies to peg compensation to market conditions. "The proper marketplace comparisons will more often be with the independent sector: with universities, think tanks and nonprofits rather than with business corporations," the report said.
Recognizing that government-wide reorganization and overhaul of personnel administration could take at least a decade, the commission proposed interim steps aimed at creating the momentum for the long haul.
On pay issues, the commission recommended that Congress grant an "immediate and significant increase" in judicial, executive and legislative salaries, with priority on raising the pay of federal judges, who make less than their counterparts in England and Canada.
The recommendations seem likely to prove contentious. Two federal unions and the Senior Executives Association -- citing different reasons -- faulted the Volcker commission report as off the mark or for not addressing the concerns of their members.
Supporters of revitalizing the government praised Volcker's effort. "Strong medicine," said Max Stier, president of the Partnership for Public Service. The question, he said, "is whether our national leaders have the will to follow through."
Federal Diary Live Please join us at noon today at www.washingtonpost.com for a discussion with Marcia Marsh, an expert on mega-mergers and a vice president at the Partnership for Public Service, on the creation of the Department of Homeland Security and what it means for federal employees.
Stephen Barr's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.