Does GS system need an update? Lawmakers ask GAO to review federal pay scale

Monday - 4/22/2013, 4:44pm EDT

A trio of lawmakers from the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee want the Government Accountability Office to examine whether the General Schedule system for federal employees needs an update.

In a letter to GAO obtained by Federal News Radio, Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), Ranking Member Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) and Blake Farenthold (R-Texas), chairman of a subcommittee on the federal workforce, said the watchdog agency's review would aid the lawmakers in evaluating "the appropriateness of the General Schedule (GS) as a pay scale for today's workforce."

The GS system, comprised of fifteen grade levels and numerous step levels in between, was first devised in 1949. At the time, the letter noted, more than 75 percent of the federal workforce held clerical positions in mostly entry-level positions — grades GS-7 and below.

"Much has changed since that time, including the nature of agency work," the lawmakers wrote.

In fact, according to December 2012 OPM data, just 24 percent of employees in the GS system fall into those lower grade levels today.

The lawmakers also want GAO to examine how the GS system addresses "critical skills gap and its ability to appropriately compensate employees who achieve results, within available resources."

Finally, the letter calls for GAO to gather expert opinion on the "attributes of a modern, effective classification system and the extent to which the GS system is consistent with those attributes."

White House: GS System 'outdated'

In its 2014 budget proposal, the White House voiced support for updating the GS system.

"In the past sixty years, the private sector has innovated towards more flexible personnel management systems, but the federal personnel system has not kept up and remains inflexible and outdated," according to the budget.

Early in his tenure as the director of the Office of Personnel Management, John Berry, who stepped down earlier this month, called for sweeping changes to the GS system.

"This system cannot stand another three decades, let alone five," Berry said at a 2009 human capital conference. "We could limp along for a few more years in the current GS system, or we can seize this moment to build something new."

OPM instituted several new programs designed to fill skill gaps in the federal workforce, such as the Presidential Innovation Fellows program and the Pathways internship program.

But neither Congress nor the administration has mandated broader changes to the federal pay-scale system.