Big Career Changes Coming at You

Senior Correspondent Mike Causey has stepped away from the keyboard for a much-needed break. While he investigates the latest rumors about Justin Bieber, we present “The Most Popular Federal Reports”. This column was originally published on November 23, 2009. Bear in mind some details may have changed since then. sk

Imagine working for an outfit with a three-step rank-in-person system instead of 15 grades.

A system where outstanding employees could be rewarded, big time, and losers could be punished financially (maybe losing annual leave) and, if necessary fired quickly without red tape and endless appeals.

Imagine that if the boss proposed to fire you, you could demand a trial, complete with a jury of your peers, which would have to make a ruling within 4-weeks. And that jury would have the power to fire the boss instead of you.


Imagine an outfit where instead of hundreds of job classifications, pay grades and longevity steps within those grades, workers were put in three categories: Apprentice, Journeyman and Expert.

During some, most or even all of their time in the apprentice phase, poor performers could be let go without fanfare. Most would make it to the Journeyman level. Some, after regular reviews done by boards made up of peers, union reps and outsiders, could be promoted to the Expert level. In addition to performance, promotions and pay raises would be based on professional growth, outside activities and in-house mentoring.

All of the above, and a lot more, are under serious, as in very serious, consideration by the Obama administration. Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry has just outlined some of the things that are under review. Experts from dozens of federal agencies, on detail for 90-days, are working on a comprehensive package that will be sent to Congress early next year. Some of the changes could be done administratively, such as streamlined hiring procedures. Others would require congressional approval.

Berry said the changes, radical in some cases, are not meant to reorganize or reinvent the government. Rather, he told the Human Capital Management Forum, the idea is to re-energize the federal government.

Berry clearly has the President’s attention. Mr. Obama personally called Berry, a one-time top aide to Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) to take over the Office of Personnel Management. At the time Berry was the happy head of the National Zoo – maybe the best job in government. He didn’t want to leave. But you don’t say no to a call like that.

To demonstrate that he has clout in power-conscious Washington, the President has taken Berry to two Cabinet meetings. The idea, clearly, was to let Department heads know that Berry is “the” man when it comes to job and system changes.

You can read the official transcript of what Berry said by clicking here.

Here are some of the major changes being considered for the federal workforce:

  • Eliminate the GS system replacing it with the apprentice, journeyman and expert categories.
  • Individuals would have rank, similar to the military and foreign service, that they would keep (and could advance in) regardless of how many people they supervised or the size of their program.
  • Feds would each (in consultation with their boss) agree there were three “must do” tasks or assignments before them, as well as three “nice to do things.” Accomplishing the first three would be mandatory. Doing five or six would make the individual a candidate for substantial bonuses or pay raises.
  • Punish employees, after notification they need to improve, by denying them pay raises and, possibly, even cutting back the amount of annual leave available to them.

Berry told the conference that the government’s problem isn’t its workers, but the antiquated job rules they must work under.

Whether you approve of, or are horrified by, the proposed changes, odds are many of them will be approved.

So fasten your seat belts and smile!

To reach me:

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According to MentalFloss, “the technical term for an ‘ant farm’ (meaning a true captive habitat for ants, not a toy) is: Formicarium.” Happy picnicking!

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