T he Bush administration plans to unveil a "civil service modernization" bill in the next few weeks that will bring about the end of the decades-old General Schedule pay scale and replace it with a management system that more closely ties pay raises to job performance.
In an interview, Clay Johnson III, a top presidential adviser, sketched the administration's plan, saying officials envision that the bill will propose a date, probably 2010, for when "the GS will sunset."
The idea is to reach an agreement with Congress on setting a deadline that gives agencies plenty of time to prepare for a new system, Johnson said.
"We want to make sure that agencies very quickly begin to communicate aggressively with employees about what is being proposed, what is not being proposed, what the answers to all the questions are, and what they -- the leadership of their agencies -- are committed to do to make the implementation successful," he said.
The Bush administration views the General Schedule, which covers more than 1.6 million workers, as outdated and ineffective at encouraging and rewarding individual achievement. Officials think that a revision to emphasize job performance and focus on compensating the best employees will help reverse popular perceptions that government employees don't work hard and can't be fired.
"If you want to really require agencies to get good at managing people, then we need to change the civil service rules," said Johnson, deputy director for management at the Office of Management and Budget.
He added, "We need more attention paid to performance and less to pure longevity, and we need to create more accountability for results, and our system now does not tend to reward results."
The legislative proposal, when sent to Congress, will represent the last part of the Bush administration's effort to overhaul the civil service system, which was restructured in 1978 but includes rules that date to the early 1900s. The departments of Defense and Homeland Security have already received permission from Congress to revamp their civil service rules and plan to launch systems this summer that should dramatically change how about 840,000 federal employees are paid, promoted and disciplined.
The sweeping changes at the two departments have roiled federal unions and prompted some concerns among members of Congress. The departments have issued regulations that scale back union bargaining power, streamline the process for employee appeals of disciplinary action and create job rating systems that can be used by managers to determine pay raises.
Johnson said the administration's government-wide proposal probably would not be as sweeping in its changes to labor relations and employee appeals because "the business case is a little different" from Defense and Homeland Security, which are directly engaged in national security operations.
He said the administration also had limited changes in those two areas on the advice of members of Congress, particularly Sens. George V. Voinovich (R-Ohio) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.). All three chair congressional panels that oversee federal workforce issues.
Johnson said he spent parts of April and May meeting with groups of federal managers and executives to gather feedback on civil service modernization and to discuss ways to improve government programs.
The managers said updating civil service rules could be achieved if the government was committed to making the changes work, Johnson said. The managers laid out a series of concerns, such as the need for a clear picture of why changes should be made and what will be expected of them and employees.
He said agencies should be allowed to begin moving forward on new personnel systems rather than having to wait to see how the Defense and Homeland Security changes work out. The experiences of the two departments will have "almost no bearing" on whether other agencies are successful at adopting new personnel systems, Johnson contended.
"The sooner they can start working on it, that's the day life gets better for the employee," he said.