A coalition of 30 professional and managerial associations has endorsed the goal of more closely linking the pay of federal employees to how well they do their jobs.

In a five-page paper released yesterday, the Coalition for Effective Change announced support for an overhaul of federal compensation, including the possibility of moving white-collar employees off the 15-grade General Schedule, which dates to 1949, and into pay systems that give agencies more discretion in setting salaries.

The coalition's support for performance-based pay, however, comes with a number of caveats.

For example, the coalition said employees who are performing in a satisfactory manner should receive, "at a minimum," an annual pay increase "that at least keeps pace with cost-of-living increases in their area."

The coalition also cautioned that the success of performance-based pay hinges on whether agencies can create methods for evaluating employees that are seen as fair. "Unless the system is credible to those who administer it and to those covered by it, the effort will fail," the coalition paper said.

The coalition, established in 1993, represents more than 600,000 current and former federal employees. Member groups include the Professional Managers Association, the National Council of Social Security Management Associations, the Asian American Government Executives Network, Executive Women in Government, Federal Managers Association, Senior Executives Association, the National Association of Assistant U.S. Attorneys and the Council of Federal EEO and Civil Rights Executives.

A news release accompanying the paper said coalition members "reached consensus" on pay-for-performance after "careful deliberations." Rosslyn Kleeman, the coalition chairman, said, "This paper demonstrates that federal managers and professionals are quite willing to be held accountable for their performance and are committed to improving government operations."

Congress has given a green light to the departments of Defense and Homeland Security to create new personnel systems that will probably tie pay raises to job performance ratings.

Bush administration officials are studying whether other departments can be moved off the General Schedule, which guarantees an annual pay raise to white-collar employees. Congress takes into account private-sector wage growth and the needs of the military in determining the annual raise.

Federal unions are wary of the Defense and Homeland Security plans, in part because they probably will narrow the scope of bargaining and make it harder for employees to appeal disciplinary actions. Many employees also are skeptical of performance-based pay, contending that giving more discretion to managers, who often report to political appointees, will encourage cronyism and favoritism.

The coalition paper says performance-based pay systems must include safeguards to ensure that salary decisions are made fairly. Credible systems will provide for third-party review of disputes, must be adequately funded and should be flexible enough to reward the performance of teams as well as individuals, the paper said.

Farewell at HHS

Campbell Gardett, director of the press office at the Department of Health and Human Services since 1986, will retire tomorrow after 31 years of government service.

Over the years, Gardett has fielded questions on health care, welfare, anthrax, condoms, marijuana and other topics in the national spotlight. He earned a reputation of being responsive and fair to the hundreds of reporters who seek information from HHS headquarters.

Gardett came to the HHS press office in 1981 after stints at the Associated Press, the Army and the Senate. Atop his desk was a Royal typewriter. Press releases were delivered by couriers. Today, the press office uses a Web site and e-mail to deliver its news.

"I was here during a time when the department came into its own," taking on new programs and responsibilities, he said.

Gardett plans to move to Southern California, where family roots go back 100 years, and become a freelance writer. "I'd like to discover a few true things and be able to write about them clearly," he said.

E-mail: barrs@washpost.com