House Begins Process For Restructuring GAO

Pay and Benefits Plan, Name Change Top Agency’s Goals

Posted July 22, 2003 at 5:30pm

The General Accounting Office plan to revamp its personnel structure to give the agency greater flexibility over ‘human capital” is making headway in both chambers, with a House committee marking up a bill today and legislation to be introduced in the Senate before the August recess.

The proposal would also rename GAO the Government Accountability Office, which Comptroller General David Walker believes would better reflect its role in Congressional oversight of federal agencies.

Reps. Jo Ann Davis (R-Va.) and Tom Davis (R-Va.), both members of the Government Reform Committee, introduced a bill last week that would make permanent GAO’s ability to offer voluntary early retirement and buyouts. The current law expires in October. It is also seeking to separate GAO’s pay scale from the executive branch and tie it more closely to performance, add authority for an executive exchange program with private-sector organizations in positions where GAO has a supply-and-demand problem, and obtain greater flexibility in the annual leave offered to upper-level hires.

The Government Reform subcommittee on civil service and agency organization, which Jo Ann Davis chairs, has had several hearings this year on civil-service reform (including Defense Department pay-for- performance proposals), according to spokesman Robert White. Walker testified as an expert at all of them.

‘He came to us a few months ago and said he’d be looking for these flexibilities for GAO,” White said, adding that the request reflects GAO’s experience observing what works in other federal agencies. ‘We worked with [Walker] to draft it, and it reflects the flexibility he thinks he needs for the GAO.”

Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio), chairman of the Governmental Affairs subcommittee on oversight of government management, federal workforce and the District of Columbia, is crafting similar legislation, according to his communications director, Scott Milburn.

‘The Senator is currently drafting the bill as introduced in the House,” Milburn said, ‘and we’re going to shop for co-sponsors over here and introduce the bill before the August recess. We plan on holding a hearing in September and hope to pass the bill and send it to the president by the end of the year.”

A spokeswoman for the full committee confirmed there would be hearings in the fall.

Three years ago, GAO received authority to restructure the agency, including new flexibilities to offer voluntary early retirement and buyouts. And just prior to that, GAO released its first strategic plan. The result was a complete restructuring, closing five of 16 offices and eliminating a layer of management.

In an interview in May, around the time he announced his current proposal, Walker said GAO is ‘trying to be in the vanguard of government transformation.”

‘In other words, to be as good or better than anybody else in government on strategic planning, organizational lines, financial management, information technology, human capital strategies, knowledge management, change management,” Walker said. ‘For the most part we’re there. And the reason we want to do that is: A, we think we can, and B, we think we should because we’re the ones holding everybody else accountable.”