Pay and benefits provided to federal law enforcement officers should be revamped to make government service more attractive and to foster "common-sense parity" in employment practices, according to a congressional paper.

Law enforcement compensation has been shaped by "an inflexible patchwork of outdated concepts" that do not meet the needs of federal agents, investigators and police officers and hinder homeland security "in today's post-9/11 environment," the paper said.

The 25-page paper was prepared by the Republican staffs of the House and Senate federal workforce panels in hopes that it will serve as a catalyst for a wide-ranging debate on how to update law enforcement pay and retirement systems in ways that can be backed by employee groups, the Bush administration and members of Congress.

The subcommittees are chaired by Sen. George V. Voinovich (R-Ohio) and Reps. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.) and Jon Porter (R-Nev.). Their aides have said they hope a consensus can be forged that will lead to a bill within the next few months.

Across government, there are about 106,000 law enforcement officers, with about half in the departments of Defense and Homeland Security. Over the years, there has been some confusion about how to define and classify law enforcement jobs. For example, some officers carry weapons and can make arrests but are excluded from special pay and pensions provided to federal law enforcement officers.

In addition, entry-level pay can vary significantly, and overall federal law enforcement pay lags behind that offered by state and local governments in several metropolitan areas.

As Defense and Homeland Security adopt more flexible pay systems in the next few years that could offer higher salary scales and bonuses to their law enforcement officers, the changes could lead to morale problems at other agencies, some officials have said.

The congressional paper offers a range of proposals to address such issues, starting with the premise that all executive branch employees in law enforcement would be covered by a single system.

Law enforcement officers would be defined as federal employees with arrest authority and engaged in the prevention, detection or investigation of violations of criminal law and in protecting U.S. officials against threats.

The director of the Office of Personnel Management would be required to set up the new law enforcement pay system, including an evaluation system for judging the performance of officers, the paper said.

The goal, the paper said, would be to "evaluate quality of work, rather than quantity of work. For example, agencies may not evaluate law enforcement officers on the number of arrests made." In addition, the new system should be designed to foster teamwork and cooperative attitudes among law enforcement personnel, the paper said.

To help OPM, the paper calls for creation of a "federal law enforcement pay and retirement council" staffed with agency officials, experts and management and employee representatives. Part of its job would be to ensure that the system was consistent with pay and classification methods adopted at Defense and Homeland Security, the paper said.

Salaries and pay increases would be based on job performance ratings and local and special geographic supplements, the paper said. To assist officers who have to move often because of their jobs, the paper called for creation of a "housing allowance program" to help them buy homes.

A new retirement program for officers would split them into two tiers with different eligibility requirements and pensions, the paper said. One retirement option would provide more generous pensions for some groups, such as Customs and Border Protection officers, who currently do not qualify for law enforcement retirement.

Diary Live Today

Richard G. Miles, president of the Government Employees Hospital Association, known as GEHA, will take questions and comments on the 2006 federal employee health insurance program at noon today on Federal Diary Live at www.washingtonpost.com. Please join us.

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