L awyers, accountants and examiners at the Securities and Exchange Commission are more satisfied with their pay and their ability to work flexible schedules than they were three years ago, a survey by the Government Accountability Office found.

At the start of this decade, the SEC was losing staff at an alarming rate, with turnover more than double the government-wide average. During fiscal 2000, the SEC's regional office in New York -- the home of Wall Street -- lost 33 percent of its lawyers, 14 percent of its accountants and 21 percent of its compliance examiners.

Congress took action to stem staff turnover in 2002, approving legislation that exempted the SEC from civil service pay rules and gave the agency authority to pay salaries comparable to those of employees at other federal financial regulatory agencies. About 3,100 people work at the SEC.

The GAO, in a letter to SEC Chairman William H. Donaldson last week, said survey respondents this year "were significantly more satisfied with their pay and their ability to use flexitime and flexiplace."

For example, in 2001, 63 percent of employees said they were generally or very dissatisfied with their pay. In the 2004 survey, conducted in March and April, 10 percent signaled unhappiness with their salaries, GAO said.

When asked in 2001 to compare their pay against similar jobs outside the government, 87 percent of SEC survey respondents said they were dissatisfied. In 2004, 32 percent expressed dissatisfaction.

Overall, 77 percent in the SEC survey said they were very or generally satisfied with their pay, excluding benefits. That was a jump of 60 percentage points from the 2001 results.

A larger number of SEC employees also appear more satisfied with their opportunities to apply for flexitime and flexiplace schedules.

Flexitime allows employees to start early, stay late or work a compressed schedule of fewer than 10 workdays per pay period. With flexiplace, employees may work a portion of their time at home or another location.

Fifty-seven percent of survey respondents said they were satisfied with their ability to work a flexitime schedule (30 percentage points higher than in 2001) and 19 percent expressed satisfaction with their ability to work under a flexiplace arrangement (up 16 points from 2001).

But GAO said levels of satisfaction dropped in three non-pay categories. SEC employees were less satisfied with "the quality of supervision provided by their immediate supervisor"; with management's efforts to communicate in a timely fashion on work priorities; and with the ability of the agency's performance appraisal system "to motivate employees to perform well and the consistency with which the system is applied."

For example, 37 percent of survey respondents expressed dissatisfaction with the performance system's ability to motivate employees, an increase of 10 percentage points from 2001.

Asked about the GAO survey, an agency spokesman said that "overall, management is pleased by the progress that has been made and is committed to further enhancements."

He said the SEC plans to hire a psychologist to study workplace issues in the agency and "how to create a workplace that encourages people to perform at their highest ability."

More FEHBP Help

PlanSmartChoice, an online guide to the insurance plans in the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program, says it will begin offering individual subscriptions to government employees and retirees starting today.

The guide, created by North Carolina-based Asparity Decisions Solutions, will cost $5.99 for the open season and can be purchased at www.fehbpsmartchoice.com.

Previously, PlanSmartChoice was available only through agencies that contracted for the service on behalf of their employees.

GEHA on Diary Live

Federal Diary Live moves to a new time this week -- noon Tuesday at www.washingtonpost.com.

Richard G. Miles, president of the Government Employees Hospital Association, better known as GEHA, will be the guest on tomorrow's Diary Live, discussing health insurance options for federal employees and retirees in 2005. Please join us with your questions and comments.

E-mail: barrs@washpost.com