What It Will Take to Fix Federal Pay

What It Will Take to Fix Federal Pay

There can be no winners if the contentious debate over federal pay drags on, certainly not federal employees. The incoming chairman of the Senate’s Homeland and Governmental Affairs Committee, Senator Ron Johnson has announced plans to hold hearings. That, no doubt, means the debate could become more heated and continue for at least the next two years.

The senator’s statements are the reason Federal Times and several other publications have referred to him as the “federal workers’ new worst nightmare.”

But in a recent article, Johnson’s comments were more conciliatory and diplomatic. He promised a “businessman’s approach” to policy and management and said, “I’m always impressed with the quality of federal workforce.” He also recognized the need to keep federal salaries competitive “to get the quality of individual we need.”

Johnson intends to hold hearings on the “facts.” Those facts, however, do not exist. There have been several recent analyses that compare federal and nonfederal pay levels, but they fail to tell us whether federal salaries are competitive. The universal practice in every other sector is to rely on salary survey data for commonly defined jobs (referred to as benchmark jobs). That approach has been used for years to adjust Federal Wage System pay levels and by agencies that use market analyses.

It’s been two decades since the Bureau of Labor Statistics compiled relevant pay data. None of the analyses completed by conservative think tanks or by the Congressional Budget Office provides job-specific “facts.” Those studies rely on data sources and statistical methods that are very different than the market analyses common in business. Statistical studies are best understood as macro analyses while benchmark job analyses are micro analyses. Everyone, including the president, seems to know some jobs are overpaid and others underpaid, but recent studies fail to provide actionable facts.

There are hundreds of surveys conducted across the country. In health care alone there may well be more than 50 surveys. Even museums conduct multiple surveys. State governments conduct surveys. Benchmark surveys are conducted in every sector.

But when the facts are assembled, it will not be possible to align the General Schedule salary ranges with market data. That’s important. The 1949 federal job hierarchy is locked in a time warp. The classification system is unable to respond to labor markets trends. The best qualified graduates in occupations now critical to government can command “competitive” salaries well above GS levels.

The General Schedule contributes to five additional problems that can only be fixed by replacing the system entirely.

  1. The classification system is caught in a time warp. The system has not been maintained adequately for more than 25 years. It’s staggeringly time-consuming and costly to maintain. No one knows how many jobs are over graded—and overpaid under the classification system—but the problem is acknowledged by many. Nothing can change without new legislation.
  2. The excessive time needed to classify jobs is an impediment to organizational change and reorganizations. Anticipated delays prompted the first pay demonstration project in 1980, which relied on dramatically simplified job classification. It could be that the recently announced Veterans Affairs Department reorganization will be delayed by the requirement that redefined jobs be properly classified.
  3. The switch to pay for performance is inevitable. It’s effectively universal outside of government for white-collar workers. In today’s climate the automatic step increases are out of sync with public thinking and the expectations of many workers. The underlying problem—ineffective performance management and performance ratings that cannot be trusted—will have to be addressed concurrently.
  4. Managers and supervisors should be accountable for managing employees. Redefining job assignments, however, is burdensome. Firing and disciplining poor performers is exceedingly difficult. To borrow a phrase, managers are “constrained and hamstrung.” Moreover, employee surveys confirm that managers are not good at rewarding the better performers. People management has never been valued in government.
  5. The GS system is an impediment to effective performance management. As long as performance ratings have few, if any consequences, they are likely to be grossly inflated. There is no compelling reason for managers to be honest. That makes the process for managing performance less important.

Johnson also intends to address federal benefits in upcoming hearings. That is a complex analysis that has not been completed by benefits experts for years.

There is no chance Congress will approve the salary increases suggested by the annual gap analysis. So, this holding action will continue for at least the next two years. Morale will continue to deteriorate. Recruiting and turnover will continue to be a problem. Allowing this to drag on is not good government.

If this was the private sector, a CEO could mandate needed changes. But for government, replacing the GS system represents a very complex organizational change initiative.  Johnson is correct—the starting point should be gaining agreement on the facts. There is broad agreement federal pay should be competitive. But until the facts are accepted, the argument will continue.

Howard Risher managed compensation consulting practices for two national firms and has written four books, including Aligning Pay and Results. He has an MBA and Ph.D. from the Wharton School.

(Image via Garsya/Shutterstock.com)

GOP seeks creative ways to avert a shutdown

GOP seeks creative ways to avert a shutdown

Republican leaders are trying to redirect their members’ immigration rage.

By Jake Sherman and Manu Raju

11/17/14 8:04 PM EST

Mitch McConnell and John Boehner are pictured. | Getty

Mitch McConnell and John Boehner are pictured. | Getty

Republican leaders have intensified their planning to prevent a government funding showdown, weighing legislative options that would redirect GOP anger at Barack Obama’s expected action on immigration and stave off a political disaster, according to sources involved with the sessions.

Obama plans to use his executive authority to change the enforcement of immigration laws by the end of the year, a move that top Republicans warn could derail efforts to pass a long-term spending bill by a Dec. 11 deadline. Increasingly, some top Republicans believe that it will be difficult to pass the year-long spending package that they originally envisioned, and are refocusing on a shorter term bill.

Speaker John Boehner, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and their top aides and deputies are mulling several options that would give Capitol Hill Republicans the opportunity to vent their frustration with what they view as an unconstitutional power grab by the White House — without jeopardizing the government financing bill.

The options include offering a separate piece of immigration legislation on the floor aimed at tightening border security and demanding the president enforce existing laws, promises to renew the effort next year when Republicans have larger numbers in both chambers, and passing two separate funding bills — a short-term bill with tight restrictions on immigration enforcement agencies, and another that would fund the rest of the government until the fall.

The leadership has not made any decisions, and is likely to weigh additional options, as well. The House does not expect to bounce between options on the floor — they will pick one, and stick with it, sources said.

The strategies are all designed to prevent another standoff over funding the government. Republicans take control of Capitol Hill in January, and have promised to govern responsibly and end crisis-fueled legislating.

“I think there is a growing momentum to the idea that Congress would be acting responsibly and modestly if it funds the government but simply bars the president from executing policies that Congress believes shouldn’t be executed by denying funding,” said Sen. Jeff Sessions, the Alabama Republican who will chair the Senate Budget Committee next year.

GOP leaders have not completely given up on a funding bill that would last until next October — they believe the support is quite strong, absent the executive action — but the political and legislative climate is unpredictable. The White House has not told Republican leaders when it will take unilateral action, but senior aides and lawmakers have made it clear to the Obama administration that acting before Congress funds the government would backfire.

“If the president exceeds his constitutional power, we need to be reserved in our response,” Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) said. “I would rather wait until the senate is with us next year to respond to what the president does…I personally would like an omnibus with appropriate reforms. There are things proactively we can do, but if I had my choice we would do a sensible bill for the whole year.”

The least desirable option, according to several Republicans directly involved in planning, is a series of short-term spending bills. McConnell and Boehner desperately want to avoid a rolling set of spending fights early in the year, which would undermine their campaign promises to return Congress to regular order. An endless stream of stopgap spending bills would throw Washington back into the crisis-like atmosphere that has defined the post-2010 divided government. The dynamic amounts to the first true post-election test for Republican leaders: They want to push back aggressively on the administration without going too far.

If Republican leaders have to fall back on a short-term spending bill, it is likely to last through February or March to give McConnell time to set up and start his new majority. But the GOP clearly sees the short-term option as a losing fight. Republicans and the White House could be locked in an immigration-fueled, government-shutdown scare every two or three months. Boehner is keenly aware of the dynamic, and in a lunch meeting with his close allies last week, he said didn’t want to lump together the immigration and government-funding discussion.

But at the same time, expectations for a long-term spending bill are dampening. Texas Sen. John Cornyn, who will be McConnell’s chief deputy in the new Republican majority, said an omnibus spending package — which GOP leaders had hoped to pass in the lame-duck session — seems unlikely at this point.

“It seems to me the two options are to do a temporary CR, for everything and to revisit it at all early next year — or to do something longer term on everything other than” the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees customs and border laws, Cornyn said. “But I know there will be controversy about that as well.”

Still, what exactly Republicans can do outside of the funding process to stop Obama remains an open question. Even if they had enough votes to pass a stand-alone bill, it would almost certainly be vetoed by Obama — and the GOP would likely lack the votes to overturn it. Moreover, House and Senate conservatives — who likely will be outraged by the president’s move — want to take the toughest legislative approach to force the president to cave to their demands.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said Monday he’s been having “productive conversations with Speaker Boehner” and Senate Appropriations Chairman Barbara Mikulski of Maryland. But he expressed uncertainty over whether Boehner could control the conservative elements of his party.

“The question is whether the Republican leaders will be able to stand up to the radical forces within their own party,” Reid said from the Senate floor. “It is more than just one or two people…It’s a large number of members of the Republican caucus over here and of course the Republican caucus in the House.”

As of now, House conservatives, meanwhile, seem unsure of their strategy.

“We gotta look at what the president may do on immigration,” said Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), a former chairman of the Republican Study Committee. “There’s all kinds of discussions happening right now, so we’ll look at a number of things.”

But the GOP leadership is growing increasingly nervous that time is short. The House is in session until Thursday, and then doesn’t return until the evening of Dec. 1. That gives Congress just 10 weekdays — at most — to pass a government funding bill.

Cornyn said that Congress should use “every tool available to us,” and withholding money seems to be the only option.

“I think it’s got to be money focused because he could refuse to sign anything and everything we send him,” Cornyn said. “I think [a stand-alone bill] is problematic.”

Read more: http://www.politico.com/story/2014/11/government-funding-shutdown-republicans-112971.html#ixzz3JR3tXk7v

How Three Agencies Weathered the 2013 Shutdown

How Three Agencies Weathered the 2013 Shutdown

Philip Bird LRPS CPAGB/Shutterstock.com

In the same week that Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., vowed to avoid future government shutdowns, the Governmental Accountability Office weighed in on Friday with new documentation on the disruption visited upon three agencies during the October 2013 16-day closure.

Cessation of patient registration for clinical trials, delays in graduation of Merchant Marine Academy students, postponed public transit grants, and shuttered environmental management offices were some of the effects of the expired appropriations at the National Institutes of Health and the Transportation and Energy departments, GAO found.

Carried out at the request of Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., who chairs the Senate Budget Committee’s Government Performance Task Force, GAO focused on units in three departments GAO selected “based on the value of grants and contracts, the percentage of employees expected to be furloughed, and the potential for longer-term effects,” the report said.

Auditors reviewed department contingency plans and economic forecasters’ analyses, while interviewing officials from the Bureau of Economic Analysis, the Office of Management and Budget, the Office of Personnel Management and associations. Auditors also cross-checked the data used in OMB ‘s year-old publication “Costs of the October 2013 Federal Government Shutdown,” finding them reliable.

Within the Health and Human Services Department, “grants management activities at NIH effectively ceased with employee furloughs, although most current grant recipients were able to draw down funds,” GAO noted. “NIH had to reschedule the review process for over 13,700 grant applications because of the shutdown. After the shutdown, NIH completed the process to meet the next milestone in January 2014.”

At Transportation, the Federal Transit Administration “effectively ceased with grants management officials furloughed and no payments made on existing grants,” GAO said. FTA officials said that no new grant awards were processed because of the shutdown, “but the effect was minimal because the grant processing system is typically unavailable in early October for fiscal year closeout activities.”

At Energy’s Office of Environmental Management, “contract activities generally continued because of the availability of multi-year funding, but more than 1,700 contractor employees who operate and maintain EM facilities were laid off or required to use leave because EM issued stop-work orders. EM officials reported some programs required four months to return to pre-shutdown levels of contract activity,” the report said.

Some of the potential disruption—economic estimates of which GAO also examined—was mitigated by the selected department’s “experience with preparing for prior potential shutdowns, funding flexibilities (such as multi-year funding), and ongoing communications internally” with OMB and OPM, the auditors found.

“OMB staff addressed questions from agencies on how to communicate about the shutdown with their employees, but did not direct agencies to document lessons learned from how they planned, managed, and implemented the shutdown for future reference,” the report said.

GAO’s recommendation for the future is that agencies dealing with a shutdown better document the impact. OMB declined to take a position on the recommendation.

(Image via Philip Bird LRPS CPAGB/Shutterstock.com)

Shutdown talk grows in GOP

Shutdown talk grows in GOP

By Scott Wong,Rebecca Shabad and Cristina Marcos – 11/14/14 04:07 PM EST

Conservative House Republicans say they’re willing to shut down the government to prevent President Obama from carrying out what they see as unconstitutional actions on immigration.

Tea Party lawmakers emboldened by the GOP’s big midterm gains say they will insist on attaching a policy rider to legislation keeping the government open that would block funding for agencies carrying out Obama’s promised executive actions limiting deportations.

If the Democratic Senate or Obama rejects the rider, the government could shut down. A current measure funding the government expires on Dec. 12.

“I am insisting on that [rider] because the president is violating his executive privilege,” GOP Rep. Paul Gosar, who represents the border state of Arizona, said in an interview Friday.

Rep. Ted Yoho (R-Fla.) called the plan to block the executive action through the government-funding bill “a great idea.” Rep. Dave Brat (R-Va.), who defeated then-Majority Leader Eric Cantor in the June GOP primary in part by accusing his opponent of supporting “amnesty,” said he also backed the proposal.

Asked if a government shutdown would be worth halting Obama’s immigration action, Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) replied: “When you take an oath to uphold the Constitution, it is not appropriate to contemplate the political consequences. You should uphold the Constitution come what may.”

The call to arms by conservatives is a challenge for GOP leaders in both chambers, who also oppose executive action by Obama but acknowledge they have not settled on a plan to stop it.

“There’s no decision on the strategy, but we know for one thing that the president should not move forward,” Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) told reporters Friday.

It’s unclear what Obama will do, but reports this week that he is considering expanding an existing program that defers the deportation of children who entered the U.S. illegally to both their parents and additional children have provoked outrage on the right.

Obama’s proposals could give legal status to 5 million people, some reports suggest.

Republicans say there’s no consensus in the broader GOP conference about how to respond when Obama issues his executive order as early as next week.

Just a year ago, conservative Republicans led by Texas Sen. Ted Cruz closed the government for 16 days in a failed bid to defund ObamaCare. GOP leaders taking over the Senate would like to avoid a repeat of that scenario.

Incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) vowed Thursday that Republicans would not shut down the government or default on the nation’s debt.

But hours later, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), fresh off winning another two years in the top spot, said the GOP would “fight tooth and nail” to stop Obama and that all options remained on the table.

Senior GOP aides said the Republican response could be a combination of blocking executive-branch nominees when Republicans take over the Senate next year and expanding a GOP lawsuit against Obama to cover his immigration action.

More moderate Republicans are trying to talk their conservative colleagues down from the ledge, warning that the GOP surely will be blamed for another shutdown. Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) is plowing ahead with a clean omnibus package that would keep the government open through September 2015.

That approach has the support of senior appropriators, including Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.).

“I don’t blame people for being mad and proposing ideas,” Cole said. “I personally think it’s just a losing strategy. It didn’t work for ObamaCare. There’s no way it’s going to work here… My view is shutting down the government is never the appropriate remedy.”

One incoming freshman elected in last week’s GOP wave, Florida Republican Carlos Curbelo, was reserving judgment and even suggested Obama’s executive immigration action could be legal.

“I recognize that every president has executive authority. The extent of that authority is in question,” said Curbelo, a Cuban-American who supports the Senate-passed comprehensive immigration reform bill. “Let’s see how the president decides to act.”

But many other moderates and conservatives are echoing Boehner’s talking points: Nothing at this point should be taken off the table.

“I certainly don’t want a government shutdown but the Speaker said everything has to be on the table if the president is taking what we consider to be unconstitutional action,” said Rep. Pete King (R-N.Y.). “We’re going to have to take action back. I hope it never reaches that stage though.”

“No one wants to risk a government shutdown,” added Tea Party Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho), who is Hispanic. “But this is an important enough issue that all options need to be on the table.”

While Republicans took a hit in the polls last year, conservatives believe Obama and Democrats would be blamed in Round 2.

“I think there is plenty of opportunity here that doesn’t risk a government shutdown but if the cards are played, America knows who was responsible for shutting down the government last time,” said Gosar. “It was very clear it wasn’t Republicans and it wasn’t Congress.”

House conservatives have been coordinating an immigration response with allies in the Senate. But Steve King, the immigration hard-liner from Iowa, wouldn’t offer specifics about whether he’s spoken with Cruz or incoming Senate Budget Chairman Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) about the plan.

“I wouldn’t be able to say that I walked over to that side of the Capitol,” King said. “We have an open communication between our staff so that dialogue does take place.”

But King took aim at establishment Republicans like McConnell for immediately ruling out a shutdown.

“It is the equivalent of the president in our battle with ISIS [the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria] saying there will be no boots on the ground,” King said.

The Purpose of the FedView Survey Is More Than Satisfaction

The Purpose of the FedView Survey Is More Than Satisfaction

Rawpixel/Shutterstock.com
Recently, the Office of Personnel Management released the governmentwide results for the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey and soon, we’ll also learn which agencies are deemed the best places to work, and which ones need improvement. While engagement is always a focus during the month when survey results are released, it’s important to remember that it should be a strategic priority all year long. The FedView survey exists for a strategic purpose–to help agency leaders unlock the productivity and potential of their teams, understand their employees’ perception of their employment experience, realize their staff’s commitment to the organization, and assess engagement risks associated with delivering the organization’s mission.

OPM has collected data through FedView for almost a decade. In doing so, they have garnered increasing support for the engagement discussion and for good reason—engagement of the workforce is directly connected to performance, and for the last few years the scores have gone down. But most fail to understand the link between engagement and satisfaction scores and overall agency performance. In fact, CEB research shows that organizations that build high levels of engagement can see real results in their organization’s performance—up to 23 percent higher performance, compared with those with low engagement. As the conversation about efficiency and productivity grows louder, can the federal government really afford to leave 23 percent higher performance on the table?

Part of the challenge is that engagement is often a standalone item, seen from the perspective of improving satisfaction across the organization instead of the connection to the bigger strategic picture. Complicating this challenge is that in most organizations, FedView results and subsequent action plans are owned by human resources, often limiting leadership engagement champions to HR as opposed to the broader leadership team. Given the critical need for the federal government to drive higher levels of organizational performance and the timeliness of the results release, now is the time for agencies to elevate the engagement conversation to connect talent and engagement results to the organization’s strategy to deliver on mission expectations.

As agency leaders assess their FedView results, they should consider the true implications of low engagement across the workforce. Lifting the engagement conversation outside the walls of HR and fully utilizing this critical data source will help the entire organization do three critical things:

  • Assess organizational performance risk. Most organizations use engagement data to improve engagement scores, not to inform business strategy or decisions. In fact, only 20 percent of HR organizations indicate that they are effective at using engagement results to inform business decisions. Low FedView scores in key performance indicators can produce roadblocks to organizational success. It’s important for leaders to understand the talent needed to deliver on the mission and to assess the risks of low engagement.
  • Focus on engagement drivers that link to the mission. As agencies consider what they need to do to improve engagement, they should narrow their focus to the few things that matter the most to the organization. With limited time, attention and resources, it’s critical for leaders to understand the factors that drive engagement, where the organization has the most room to improve, and where there are critical links to the agency’s ability to meet performance objectives. For example, if collaboration across work units is a major factor for mission success, then leaders should focus engagement efforts there—not on all of the questions that yielded low results.
  • Improve leadership commitment to engagement strategies. Leading people toward meeting the organization’s vision, mission and goals is a core qualification for the Senior Executive Service cadre. Connecting engagement scores among staff to their leaders will help to improve the commitment and accountability of that leader to drive engagement across the organization. Organizations can improve this commitment and accountability by integrating FedView results into leadership assessments. The results provide a quantitative view into this individual objective and should be combined with other, more qualitative data sources to gain a true picture of the individual’s ability to lead people to achieve organizational outcomes.

It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of seeing how agencies stack up in the Best Places to Work rankings, but the information FedView provides gives us more than just agency rankings and engagement scores. Organizations should capitalize on the fact that engagement is a more urgent priority today than ever before and utilize FedView data to inform organizational strategy. FedView results can help organizations understand the workforce’s commitment to the organization, assess risk to mission delivery, and focus on strategies that will not only improve engagement scores, but also help the organization meet mission objectives.

Elisabeth Joyce is senior director at CEB, a membership-based advisory company.

(Image via Rawpixel/Shutterstock.com)