The federal government will soon be announcing the award of a contract to study what compensation and reward practices matter most to federal employees and stand the greatest chance of encouraging merit in government service, according to Margaret Weichert, deputy director for management at the Office of Management and Budget and acting director of the Office of Personnel Management.

“One of the things that we’re about to go to field with is a broad, modern compensation, rewards and recognition study. I think there’s been a ton of focus on pay, which is actually a very narrow component of what motivates human beings once they’ve met the basic need for food, clothing and shelter,” said Weichert at a March 20 press briefing.

“Whether you talk to millennials or you look at the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey, the things that are the biggest concerns to our employees actually aren’t pay. They’re certainly not benefits.”

According to Weichert, pay and benefits both received above 60 percent in FEVS satisfaction scores, while performance rewards scored between 30 and 40 percent.

The Trump administration has long tried to adjust the federal compensation system to better reflect the performance of employees, but attempts to freeze federal pay rather than offer an across-the-board pay raise were overturned by Congress in the most recent funding package.

Though Weichert said that the award for the study had yet to be made, and details were therefore sparse, she said that the study would try to uncover what kinds of compensation structures would best fit a modern workforce.

“We want to field a broader conversation, and I think pay is too narrow. I asked the question: how do we really use 21st century, leading practices around rewards and recognition? And that includes compensation, but it’s bigger than that,” said Weichert.

“It’s very focused on combining the numbers with the notion of merit. It’s really about rewards and recognition that are linked to merit, and that is the connection that we’re trying to draw out and use leading practice in the realm of broader HR.”

Those rewards may include practices that improve work-life balance, provide better access to job progression or offer training to transition into more-needed, higher-paying positions.

According to Weichert, the study will also try to more effectively compare the whole of federal pay and benefits to the private sector.

Past comparisons have presented conflicting results, depending on the scope and education level of the federal workforce examined.

“Very often we talk about pay but we don’t talk about locality pay,” said Weichert. “We want to do apples to apples on that.”