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OPM's Berry Deals Out First Set of Civil Service Reform Suggestions

OPM's Berry Deals Out First Set of Civil Service Reform Suggestions

OPM Director John Berry

Jason Miller | Executive Editor | FederalNewsRadio

November 03, 2009

Berry says this approach would “treat employees like responsible adults” and would include alternative work schedules, telework and other flexibilities.

He says part of this idea to increase flexibilities is to eliminate the classification system that parses the grades and steps and attempts to define every job in great detail.

“The classification system was designed with a noble purpose – to ensure equal pay for equal work. And that is a core value to which we must pay great deference,” he says. “But when it prevents managers from adapting their job responsibilities to the ever-shifting responsibilities of their departments, it becomes a millstone. And classification today has become so stilted, and our HR staffers have become so used to manipulating it, that in the words of one of them, ‘a good classifier could make a Dixie cup a GS-14.’”

He adds that the classification system is no longer protecting equal pay, but limiting flexibilities of managers to define jobs and promote the most qualified people quickly.

Finally, Berry offers some ideas around performance-both good and bad.

While he realizes it’s not easy to solve, he would cut the number of appraisal categories to three-outstanding, in good standing and not in good standing-from the five that agencies currently use-outstanding, more than fully successful, fully successful, less than fully successful and unsuccessful.

Berry suggests opening up performance pay to all employees with SES employees being eligible for an extra five percent bonus. Again, Berry offers that a performance review board could be the final arbiter on who receives bonuses.

“At the end of it, we need to build a timely appeals process that ensures fairness,” he says. “What if we modeled something after our jury system? With a panel with representatives from labor, management and other stakeholder groups that would review your file, hear your case and get you a quick decision. But frivolous complainers beware, because this panel can move your ratings in both directions, not just up. And managers beware because they could discipline you too if you weren’t doing your job.”

And as for firing consistently unsuccessful employee, Berry says it should only be done as a matter of last resort, but it shouldn’t be so difficult.

“The decision to fire someone has to be fair and the reasons have to be clear,” he says. “It has to be reviewed, because the power to take away someone’s livelihood shouldn’t rest in one person’s hands.”

Berry emphasizes that none of these suggestions are final, and he wants to start a dialogue with all interested parties.

“This is an attempt to begin a dialogue that’s going to be an ongoing on over the next couple of years as we attempt to build a straw dog that we can propose as an administration initiative to reform the civil service. I did not propose an initiative tonight. I began a discussion. By doing that, it is a specific attempt to put the ideas out there and invite the comments.”

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