Things I am passionate about. Injustice, stupidity, intolerance, bigotry and small-mindedness. Oh and there might just be some humor to offset the whole thing.

Comptroller General Leaving for Love of Country

Posted by morganwrites on March 15, 2008

Washinton Post – The way the government pays and manages its people was not on David M. Walker‘s radar when he came to the Government Accountability Office more than nine years ago.


David M. Walker

But he soon decided that the federal personnel system needed an overhaul.

Job classifications and compensation were based on laws and rules from the 1940s and 1950s, he found. He concluded that the General Schedule, used to set the pay for about 1.6 million federal workers, “is fundamentally flawed,” contending that 85 percent of the GS pay increases “have nothing to do with performance. Zippo.”

Walker called for a shake-up of the federal personnel system and revamped GAO pay practices. “It was something that became a higher priority after I realized how serious a problem it was, not just at GAO but government-wide,” he said in an interview.

On Wednesday, Walker gives up his title as comptroller general of the United States and says his farewells at the GAO, the congressional watchdog agency. He is leaving to become the president and chief executive of a new foundation that will urge solutions to the nation’s growing fiscal and demographic problems — an issue he has been speaking out about, on national television and in “fiscal wake-up” tours, over the past three years.

Walker came to the GAO with a goal of making it a model agency, using best practices that could be exported to the rest of the government. The GAO, with about 3,000 employees, has been ranked as one of the best places to work in Washington.

Under Walker’s watch, the GAO has issued bleak reports on Iraq, faulted the government’s handling of Hurricane Katrina and challenged Vice President Cheney to provide information about meetings he held with energy companies.

Inside the government, Walker will be remembered for the attention he drew to shortcomings of the federal personnel system. In January 2001 he put it on the government’s “high-risk list,” a designation traditionally reserved for federal programs deemed at risk of waste, fraud and abuse.

Walker also brought the buzz phrase “strategic human capital management” to the federal government, stressing that agencies needed to improve how they recruit, train and reward employees. “Any organization is only as good as its people,” he tirelessly told members of Congress, Bush administration officials and academics.

The Bush Cabinet got similar marching orders from Mitchell E. Daniels Jr., then the director of the Office of Management and Budget. At a May 2001 Cabinet briefing, an OMB briefing paper described the government as hamstrung by too many management layers and a pay system that did not reflect the realities of the labor market and was likely to suffer a “skill gap” in critical occupations when baby boomers retired.

“I learned a lot from the work and thinking that David had done,” Daniels, now the Republican governor of Indiana, said.

Max Stier, president of the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service, said Walker “will be sorely missed.” Walker and Sen. George V. Voinovich (R-Ohio) were among the first to “beat the drum” on the importance of better managing the federal workforce, Stier said.

Still, Walker’s efforts to revamp the GAO’s internal pay practices did not go smoothly. In 2005, he split a pay band, or salary range, in two, sparking complaints that led to a congressional hearing and fueled a decision by GAO analysts to unionize. Some GAO employees thought they were not treated fairly in the split. Others were angered when they did not receive a raise, the practice across most of the government, in 2006.

The pay-band split, Walker said, was “the most controversial thing by far that we have done and the thing that led to the most emotion and ultimately led to the union.”

In hindsight, he said, the switch to new compensation practices should have included a guaranteed base pay raise for all employees, “to ease the transition.”

Most employees see a guaranteed raise as a way to protect their purchasing power, and Walker said the idea may make sense for government agencies that seek to leave the General Schedule for performance-based systems.

Walker, 56, is leaving the GAO to lead a foundation started by Peter G. Peterson, co-founder of the Blackstone Group, a private investment banking firm. Peterson, 81, has pledged $1 billion to the foundation for research and projects to address the federal budget deficit, federal entitlement programs and social problems.

Engaging the public on the nation’s fiscal challenges means advocating solutions, building coalitions and mobilizing grass-roots campaigns, Walker said. He could not do that while at the GAO, he said.

Walker said the timing was right to take “the unique opportunity” to join Peterson to work on national issues.

“I know myself well enough to know that I’m an innovator and a change agent. I’m not a maintenance guy. I can do maintenance mode, but that is not my highest and best use,” Walker said.

Gene L. Dodaro, the GAO’s chief operating officer and a longtime career official, will serve as the acting comptroller general when Walker steps down Wednesday. Congress and the White House jointly select comptrollers general, and that can be a lengthy process. Nearly two years passed before an agreement was reached to appoint Walker, who took office in 1998.

“I love my job. I love GAO. But I love my country more,” Walker said of his decision. “I’m really concerned about the future of the country.”


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