The government's patchwork approach to paying federal law enforcement officers -- shaped by law, rules and court decisions since the 1940s -- should be replaced with a framework that recognizes the more complex challenges facing officers and agencies in the new century, the Bush administration recommends in a report scheduled for release today.

The 60-page report describes "considerable and sometimes confusing differences" in pay and retirement benefits provided officers across the government.

"Disparities between agencies that have pay flexibilities and those that do not can harm morale, create staffing disruptions and increase costs unnecessarily," Kay Coles James, director of the Office of Personnel Management, warns in the report's introduction.

The report calls on Congress to grant broad authority to the OPM to establish a government-wide framework for pay and related benefits in consultation with law enforcement agencies and with the concurrence of the attorney general. Agencies would be free to tailor pay practices under the framework, which would be cast as regulation rather than law.

Pressure to overhaul law enforcement pay and retirement programs has been building for several years and increased after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, which led to the creation of the Department of Homeland Security.

Associations representing officers, criminal investigators and FBI agents have petitioned Congress for changes, with some contending that federal pay scales make it difficult for agents to make ends meet in high-cost cities.

In an effort to sort out policy choices, Congress last year directed the administration to produce recommendations. The report was written at the OPM under the direction of James and key advisers, such as Ronald P. Sanders and Donald J. Winstead. The House civil service subcommittee, chaired by Rep. Jo Ann S. Davis (R-Va.), plans to hold a hearing on the report next week.

The report addresses three areas -- basic pay, retirement benefits and premium pay (overtime, Sunday and holiday pay, night differential, availability pay and other special rates) -- that cover about 106,000 federal law enforcement officers.

It outlines numerous problems, including a narrow and outdated statutory definition of law enforcement, a 50-year-old basic pay system (the General Schedule) that does not reflect the dynamics of today's law enforcement work, a mandatory retirement age of 57 that sometimes deprives the government of experienced hands, and piecemeal legislation and court rulings that have created "unwarranted differences" in pension benefits.

In addition, Congress has permitted some agencies to create pay scales that are more generous than the standard GS rates, which cover about 86,000 officers, the report shows.

For example, the pay range for U.S. Capitol Police at the private first class rank ranges from $49,851 to $81,168; in contrast, the pay range for a GS officer in Washington, in the most common GS-6 grade, ranges from $37,839 to $49,196.

Pay systems for the Secret Service Uniformed Division, the Park Police and the Transportation Security Administration also provide higher pay than is available for GS officers, the report says.

In addition, the report points out, some officers are able to count certain categories of overtime pay toward their retirement, resulting in increased retirement benefits of up to 25 percent.

One option to mitigate pension disparities calls for creating a second tier of law enforcement retirement that would provide annuities falling between the most generous law enforcement formula and the regular GS retirement formulas, the report said.

Talk Shows

Patricia Wolfe, president of Federally Employed Women, and Janet Kopenhaver, the group's Washington representative, will be the guests on "FEDtalk" at 11 a.m. today on federalnewsradio.com.

John Seal, chief management officer at the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp., will be the guest on "The Business of Government Hour" at 9 a.m. tomorrow on WJFK radio (106.7 FM).

"Sending Personal E-mails From Your Workplace" will be the topic for discussion on the Imagene B. Stewart call-in program at 8 a.m. Sunday on WOL radio (1450 AM).

E-mail: barrs@washpost.com