In legislation that would overhaul the government's intelligence community, Congress chose not to order up a new pay and personnel system for an office of the national intelligence director, a national counterterrorism center and existing agencies, such as the CIA.
"By choice, we are not creating any new personnel systems," a Senate Republican aide said. "We are only giving the NID authority to develop common personnel policies and programs."
Requiring the proposed NID and the CIA to adopt performance-based pay would have amounted to overkill, congressional aides said. Establishing the NID, transferring intelligence organizations into the new center and maintaining day-to-day operations probably will demand the full attention of senior intelligence officials, the aides said.
The House and Senate have approved intelligence reform bills that address key recommendations of the 9/11 commission report. But the bills differ in several respects, and congressional negotiators face a tricky round of talks if they hope to send legislation to President Bush before Election Day.
The Bush administration has urged agencies to move toward "pay for performance" systems, and major efforts are underway at the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security. The efforts have created some anxiety in the workforces of those agencies, primarily because so few details are available on how the new pay systems would work.
Two years ago, the CIA began a pilot project to test possible changes in the ways employees are evaluated and paid. This year, the House intelligence committee expressed "serious reservations" about the project but said it "supports the notion of rewarding superior performers with increased pay."
Porter J. Goss, the new CIA director, said at his Sept. 14 confirmation hearing that he believed changes in CIA compensation "must happen."
But Goss said the CIA workforce is "unique" and stressed that results of the pilot project need to be studied. "I think we've got to get it right," Goss testified. "I stand for comp reform, but I want to make sure it's the right comp reform."
The House intelligence committee in June urged the CIA to work with the Office of Personnel Management on designing a performance-based pay system. Congressional aides said the CIA and OPM have started work on compensation issues.
Before leaving for its campaign recess, Congress signed off on a provision that would stop the Department of Homeland Security from contracting out work performed by about 1,400 immigration information officers, contact representatives and investigative assistants.
The provision was part of a $32 billion spending bill for the department in fiscal 2005 that was approved by the House and Senate. The provision would prohibit the use of funds for the job competition under Office of Management and Budget Circular A-76.
The White House lobbied against the ban during a meeting of House-Senate negotiators last week but failed to dislodge the provision, which was championed by Sens. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) and Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Calif.) and others.
Immigration information officers screen benefit applications for fraud and perform background checks on applicants, Leahy said. "Weeding out potential fraud in our immigration system must remain a responsibility of government employees, especially when the perpetrator of the fraud may be a dangerous criminal or terrorist," Leahy said in a statement yesterday.
The American Federation of Government Employees, which represents immigration employees, argued that the Homeland Security employees perform jobs that are "inherently governmental" and in the public interest. Contractors should not be allowed to perform such functions, the union said.
In addition to Leahy, Nelson and Roybal-Allard, John Gage, the union president, praised Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) and Reps. Frank R. Wolf (R-Va.), John E. Sweeney (R-N.Y.) and Jo Ann Emerson (R-Mo.) for supporting the union's position.
On a voice vote late Friday, the House approved a bill that would enhance dental and vision benefits for federal employees and retirees.
Reps. Tim Murphy (R-Pa.) and Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.) are the bill's chief sponsors. Earlier this year, a Senate committee approved similar legislation sponsored by Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Daniel K. Akaka (D-Hawaii).