- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 2, 2006

Over the weekend, about 11,000 Defense Department employees lost their WIGs, but got one-shot pay raises averaging more than $950 each.

A WIG in the language spoken on the Potomac stands for within-grade raise.

Within-grades, or step increases, are the automatic pay increases, each worth roughly 3 percent, that feds get every one, two or three years for satisfactory service in their particular pay grade. Although not technically automatic, the WIGs go to about 98 percent of all feds when their time in their pay grade is completed.

If all goes as planned, the rest of the giant Defense work force will follow suit, losing their WIGs in the conversion to a pay-for-performance plan.

Sunday was transformation day for the first group of Pentagon employees, a handpicked group of Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps civilians who are now part of the brave new civil service world known as NSPS. That stands for National Security Personnel System, which was approved two years ago by Congress to respond to the post-September 11 world.

In the coming months and years, the Department of Homeland Security will implement a similar system that will abolish the automatic longevity raises, place employees in pay bands replacing the 15-grade pay system, and base pay raises on performance.

Later this year, more Defense workers will move into NSPS. They, too, will get a one-shot pay raise representing the dollar equivalent of the time they have served in their 10-step pay grades.

In the case of Defense workers under NSPS, all employees with a satisfactory rating will get the White House- and Congress-approved pay raise. The president has proposed a 2.2 percent adjustment, but a bipartisan House-Senate group again will seek to boost the amount. Whatever it is, most feds will get it.

And some, Defense says, will get more. Their add-on raises will come from a pay pool of money that would have been used to give out WIGs and other cash awards. Officials don’t want to be pinned down to specific amounts but say that, for some employees, the increases could be substantial.

Other government agencies, including the Government Accounting Office and the Federal Aviation Administration, either have their own version of pay-for-performance or, like the Internal Revenue Service, are moving toward it.

The Office of Personnel Management is pushing an administration plan, nicknamed “smart pay,” that would add another component to annual pay raises. If Congress approves that plan, agencies could give out extra money from the regular pay pool to recruit and retain employees.

Most of the non-Defense pay-for-performance plans are still on the drawing board or in the talking stage. But within two years, unless unions can block them in court, well over half of the nonpostal federal work force will be under some kind of performance-pay system.

Retirement tidal wave

The federal government expects to lose tens of thousands of experienced employees in the next three years, and in many instances recruiting efforts, to get the best and brightest college grads to replace them, is coming up short.

“Many young people have or say they have plans for public service,” an official of the Office of Personnel Management said, “but their definition of public service isn’t the federal government. It’s either working with a nonprofit, an environmental group or project or [a nongovernmental organization].”

Gone are the days when thousands of high school- and college-age people came into government via the clerical route content to rise through the ranks.

• Mike Causey, senior editor at Federal News Radio AM 1050, can be reached at 202/895-5132 or mcausey@federalnewsradio.com.

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