Pay & Benefits

GAO says feds’ salaries should be based on performance, not seniority

Federal agency efforts to recruit and retain talent are being hampered by an outdated classification system, an overly complicated hiring process, poor employee engagement and performance management, and "an outmoded [pay] system that rewards length of service rather than individual performance," according to Robert Goldenkoff, the Government Accountability Office's director of strategic issues. 

Appearing in front of the House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Goldenkoff spoke on the need to carefully consider the federal compensation system and its modernization to avoid a mission-critical skills gap as more than 34 percent of current governmentwide employees become eligible to retire in 2020.

Basing his testimony on the GAO's body of work on federal human capital management between June 2012 and March 2017, Goldenkoff highlighted themes that could contribute to designing and managing a performance-oriented, affordable, sustainable pay system to be competitive in the labor market. 

These include examining the value of total employee compensation (including base pay, monetary incentives, benefits and deferred compensation); building in transparency safeguards to ensure fairness of pay decisions; providing communications training to assure management can clearly explain compensation reforms and give and receive feedback; promoting employee and stakeholder involvement and consensus in pay reforms; and monitoring employee views and metrics to refine the implementation of system changes over time.

Goldenkoff also noted existing tools that could build and maintain a high-performing workforce, including:

  • The Office of Personnel Management’s new framework for agencies to plan, implement, evaluate and improve human capital policies and programs;
  • The ability for OPM to analyze, consolidate or eliminate inefficient hiring authorities;
  • A rebalancing of the General Schedule classification system to reflect the evolving composition of the government’s professional, administrative and technical roles; and
  • The strengthening of human resources specialist capabilities to lead strategic activities, not just personnel transactions.

The transcript of Goldenkoff’s entire testimony can


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