Progress Report on Personnel Reform: Highlights from the Recent Volcker Commission Conference, "Transforming the Public Service: Progress Made and the Work Ahead"

Article excerpt

On February 18, 2004, the Volcker Commission on the Public Service and the National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA) held a conference, "Transforming the Public Service: Progress Made and the Work Ahead." Conference cosponsors included Government Executive magazine, the Council for Excellence in Government, and the Partnership for Public Service.

The conference addressed three key issues:

* Where do we stand in the effort to reform and renew the federal public service?

* How can government best tackle the critical job of implementing these reforms, turning them from promise to reality? and

* What is the agenda that still lies ahead?

The conference participants discussed a general concern that personnel reforms going forward in the Department of Defense (DOD) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) should be uniform across the government, based on some kind of general merit principles, and that Congress should control the reform process or be faced with a patchwork of personnel and payroll systems.

Progress Made

Timothy Clark, editor and president of Government Executive magazine and C. Morgan Kinghorn, president, NAPA, welcomed participants in the program. Presenters included Paul Volcker, chairman, National Commission on the Public Service; Leon Panetta of the Leon and Sylvia Panetta Institute for Public Policy; and Fred Thompson, former Chairman, Senate Governmental Affairs Committee. Kay Coles James, director, Office of Personnel Management (OPM), gave the keynote address.

Chairman Volcker spoke about the Commission's finding that there is a need for greater flexibility for management and reorganization of government, and that management of change is a special challenge. He noted that there is an important role for continued Congressional oversight, but that there is a need for Congress to take a governmentwide view and not just one of looking at agencies in crisis.

Mr. Volcker gave participants a paper summarizing progress made to date on implementation of the Commission's recommendations. The paper cited active Commission participation with Congress, the administration, and public interest groups in developing the new flexible personnel authorities it recommended for DOD and DHS. At the same time, the paper noted that the Commission also recommended the development of underlying principles for a new federal personnel system.

The paper cited legislative progress on significant increases in pay for the judicial, executive, and legislative branch leaders that the Commission recommended. The president has proposed increasing judicial salaries substantially by approximately 25 percent. The pay cap impacting the top four levels of the Senior Executive Service (SES) was lifted, a single band replaced the SES pay grades, and a performance-based pay system was authorized for the SES. In addition, Congress authorized a governmentwide performance-based fund and provided sufficient funding to design the program.

The paper noted that the new flexibilities at DHS and DOD, and similar ones available to federal organizations such as the US General Accounting Office, the Internal Revenue Service, the Federal Aviation Administration, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, the Securities and Exchange Commission, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and others, mean that more than half of all federal civilian employees will be working under federal human resources laws and regulations that are significantly more flexible and responsive to modern organizational needs than those available to the rest of the government. This includes alternative approaches such as replacement of the General Schedule and classification system with pay banding, a significant new emphasis on performance, including performance-based compensation systems, improved appeals processes, and new recruitment and hiring authorities. …