It's official: GAO now stands for Government Accountability Office.

The congressional watchdog agency, once known as the General Accounting Office, got its new name last week when President Bush signed legislation that will permit Comptroller General David M. Walker to embark on a new compensation system for GAO employees.

The law, known as the GAO Human Capital Reform Act, will allow the agency to break its link to the federal employee pay system and adopt compensation practices that are more closely tied to job performance and other factors.

The legislation, proposed about a year ago, was sponsored by Rep. Jo Ann S. Davis (R-Va.) and Sen. George V. Voinovich (R-Ohio).

"Congress relies specifically on the judgments of the comptroller general to manage his workforce to produce quality and timely information for our use," Davis said in a statement.

"He has demonstrated good faith and earned our confidence," Davis added.

This year, Walker outlined plans for a compensation and classification review that he hopes will provide "equal pay for work of equal value over time" and also help the GAO control payroll costs in lean budget times.

The proposal has caused concern for some of the GAO's 3,200 employees, in part because it raises the possibility that some employees, because of job status or where salary lines get drawn, might not receive the standard general pay increase that Congress provides to federal employees each year.

Some employees also have lamented the passing of the GAO's old name, partly because of tradition (the agency was created in 1921) and partly because they view "accountability" as a trendy word in management circles.

But GAO officials said the name change better reflects the agency's activities, which involve strategic issues and not just accounting and auditing of financial books, and predict the name change will help reduce confusion among job applicants and the public.

In addition to allowing changes in compensation practices, the law grants the GAO the permanent authority to offer employees early retirement and buyout packages.

Several other personnel flexibilities in the law will help GAO become more competitive in recruitment, congressional aides said.

Fixing Federal Hiring

The House civil service subcommittee, chaired by Rep. Jo Ann S. Davis, has scheduled a hearing tomorrow to put an end to the "blame game" on why federal agencies are not using two hiring flexibilities approved by Congress two years ago, the subcommittee announced.

Last month, the GAO reported that a number of agency officials faulted the Office of Personnel Management for issuing rigid regulations and for providing inadequate guidelines on how to use the new hiring methods, known as "category rating" and "direct hire." OPM contends that the responsibility to develop and use the new methods rests with each agency.

Among the officials scheduled to testify, the subcommittee said, are Dan Blair, deputy OPM director, and David S.C. Chu, undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness. OPM, meanwhile, has announced it will hold a forum Aug. 5 to help agencies streamline their hiring practices. OPM's announcement said it plans to show personnel officials and program managers how the new hiring flexibilities can speed recruitment of college graduates, veterans and others. The forum is the second recently sponsored by OPM on hiring flexibilities.

Union Protest

The American Federation of Government Employees is sponsoring a protest rally outside the Federal Labor Relations Authority headquarters at noon Wednesday. In the union's announcement, John Gage, president of AFGE, accused the FLRA and the Federal Service Impasses Panel of issuing rulings biased against organized labor. The impasses panel recently ruled against AFGE on 25 of 26 contested issues in a contract dispute at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Diary Live

Christopher Jahn, president of the Contract Services Association of America, will discuss the Bush administration's "competitive sourcing" initiative on Federal Diary Live at noon Wednesday at www.washingtonpost.com. Please join us with your questions and comments.

E-mail: barrs@washpost.com