GAO Employees Submit Petition for Pay Increases

Posted May 16, 2007 at 6:40pm

More than 200 Government Accountability Office analysts officially petitioned the agency’s Personnel Appeals Board on Wednesday for cost-of-living pay increases, back pay and other salary-related benefits.

In total, 226 petitions were filed with the board: 213 from current employees and 13 from retirees. Analysts who helped organize the grass-roots effort said it was done in six days by sending messages to private e-mail accounts and through word of mouth.

“It just spread like wildfire,” said one analyst involved in the effort who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

In a statement issued Wednesday, Comptroller General David Walker, who runs the agency, said he was aware the petitions had been filed with the board but had not yet reviewed them.

“However, based on our knowledge of this matter, we believe these filings are untimely,” Walker said.

It could take months for the board to review the petitions. Some analysts said more employees would file similar petitions but fear retaliation.

“A lot of people would rather quit or go elsewhere,” an analyst involved in the effort said. “But I’m doing this because I love working at the GAO.”

The filings come on the heels of two significant events. In early April, the agency settled with 12 employees who filed similar claims with the board by giving them the salary increases and back pay they had petitioned for.

Last week, more than half of the GAO’s 1,500 analysts filed a separate petition with the appeals board to hold an authorizing election that will decide if a union is formed at the agency for the first time.

The employees who filed petitions on Wednesday are rallying against a 2004 change in the agency’s pay system that divided the analysts into groups called “bands,” which capped salaries for hundreds of staffers. Many analysts also say they have been given cost-of-living raises that are below other federal employees.

Older and minority workers specifically were hurt by the new system, some analysts said, although the bulk of the petitions did not include allegations of discrimination.

The pay change was prompted by a 2004 study conducted by the firm Watson Wyatt Worldwide, and Walker has said the new system better gauges how much employees should be paid based on market conditions. That study also found some employees were overpaid, which Walker has said is the root of the discontent.

In their petition, the analysts allege the “GAO violated the statutory rights of its employees and failed to provide employees with their rightful pay as provided for in federal law and regulations.”

The analysts further write that the pay system harmed GAO employees by instituting pay caps, lower across-the-board raises compared with other government agencies and questionable performance-based pay amounts.

Walker also failed to uphold his promise, made in 2003 before the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, to provide inflation protection for all GAO employees who receive a “meets expectation” performance rating, analysts said.

“This is regarding principle,” one analyst said. “Mr. Walker said if you meet expectations, you get at least a cost-of-living raise.”

As a remedy, the analysts are seeking full reinstatement of across-the-board salary adjustments, any back pay and, perhaps most notably, a detailed study of the pay system using GAO audit methods.

“It’s not just like this happened yesterday,” the analyst said. “This has been years, and people are still upset.”

Congress, meanwhile, is stepping up its oversight efforts on the GAO pay system change, as a joint committee hearing on the agency’s personnel reform will be held Tuesday, with Walker among those scheduled to testify.

Rep. Danny Davis (D-Ill.), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee on the federal workforce, Postal Service and District of Columbia, and Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii), head of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs subcommittee on oversight of government management, the federal workforce and the District of Columbia, will oversee the hearing.

The panel is set to look at the Watson Wyatt study and subsequent pay reforms enacted by Walker in 2004, specifically focusing on how black workers were affected. For his part, Walker predicted he will fare well at the hearing.

“I look forward to testifying before the Congress next week,” Walker said. “I take great comfort in knowing that the facts are on our side.”