- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 6, 2003

The Bush administration is making a two-pronged attack on civil service rules it considers outdated, and opponents say the changes will endanger national security.The White House — with the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) in the point position — wants to introduce a merit pay system in government, with the lion’s share of future raises based on an individual’s performance.Eventually it would like to eliminate the so-called “being there” raises. These are longevity raises worth 3 percent (in addition to regular raises) that employees get for length of service. OPM has been pushing these changes for months to groups nationwide.Last week, the Department of Defense began a surprise end run, seeking quickie congressional approval for a go-it-alone DoD personnel system. It would include pay for performance, but it also calls for changes in reduction in force (rif) rules that would give less protection for seniority as well as performance.The Defense Department plan would make “reshaping” easier by offering early retirement and maximum $25,000 buyouts to selected employees. It also would revamp rules in favor of more contracting out of services now performed by civil servants.The DoD has an ace in the hole because the bulk of its proposal will be considered by two, instead of one, congressional committees in the House. The first is the Government Reform Committee led by Thomas M. Davis III, Virginia Republican.Mr. Davis is a leader in the Republican majority and a team player. But he and the White House know that he gets re-elected with federal employee/retiree votes. He wants to have a hand in shaping any DoD or White House changes.At the same time, Defense’s proposals (most of them) for the civil service also will go through the House Armed Services Committee. It’s likely to give the Pentagon pretty much what it wants.The problem — if there is one — for the administration is the Senate. It’s in no hurry to deal with the Defense proposals (which got a rare House hearing 24 hours after they were introduced). And it will rely much more on a this-is-a-great-idea-but report from the General Accounting Office.GAO has advocated a variety of changes in the “human capital” (in English that’s people, GS-4s through GS-15s). But GAO warned that the Defense plan, though chock-full of good ideas and merit, shouldn’t be rushed into production.Although Defense says it has tested (and that people loved) performance pay and pay banding (substituting individual grades for broader salary ranges), GAO says rushing into it for 600,000-plus DoD civilians could cause more problems.Democratic Reps. Steny Hoyer of Maryland and Henry A. Waxman of California say the Defense plan is a “cynical” attempt to break the civil service and fatten the purses of wannabe Defense contractors.They say the Bush administration has been out to get feds and break up their unions, and this is the tool needed to do it.So what’s in it for you? Plenty, if you are a fed or a taxpayer.Bear in mind that administrations have tried — and mostly failed — to get their version of civil service “reform.” But Defense has a league-leading batting average when it comes to getting what it wants out of Congress.It could be that while the powers that oppose change are fighting the White House/OPM reform camel, its stronger twin, from the Pentagon, has its nose sticking in the tent.Best day to retireI confused lots of readers with an item last week about the best day to retire in order to minimize taxes (on lump-sum annual leave payments) and still be paid for that leave at the higher year 2004 rate.Bottom line: The best date for workers under the newer Federal Employees Retirement System is this Dec. 31.For those under the older Civil Service Retirement System, the best day to retire is Jan. 2 of next year. The “best dates” change each year but are typically the last day of the month (for FERS employees) and within the first three days of the month for CSRS employees.

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