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Berry lays out merit and pay proposals

By Ed O'Keefe

Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry spoke Monday at the Maxwell School of public affairs at Syracuse University about the future of public service and shared his ideas on the type of merit pay and performance system the federal government should adopt.

First, as he's stated before, Berry said, “We must end the denigration of our civil servants and stop using them as political footballs." Both Democrats and Republicans have criticized federal employees in the past, he said.

“These attacks weren’t just misguided, they were dead wrong. Civil servants are every bit as efficient as the private sector, if not more so," Berry said. "Their integrity and their dedication are unsurpassed. And to honor their service, we have principles that cannot be compromised.”

As Berry laid out his specific proposals and ideas, he said: “I hate the term 'human capital.' I think it’s demeaning as a term. I think it implies that people are widgets. I don’t care how much money you have, I don’t care how much technology you have; if you don’t have the right people, you can’t build anything."

The government needs to employ "people who can understand all aspects of our rapidly evolving economy, provide expert advice to our elected and appointed officials, and serve as cops on the beat, faithfully executing our laws to protect the American people," he said.

The government's merit system must "assess critical thinking and problem-solving skills. It must assess how well a worker has kept up with changes in his or her field, and contributions he or she is making to the field beyond his or her immediate job requirements."

"Instead of meticulously parsed grades and steps, maybe we should consider career ladders with just three stages: apprentice, journey level and expert," Berry said. "What if we drew bright lines between these stages and had a high bar to enter each? Would having your rank follow you no matter what job you’re doing, instead of having it tied to a specific position, be more appropriate for the 21st century?"

(The Eye's colleague Joe Davidson will have much more on the details of Berry's proposals in his Tuesday Federal Diary column.)

The Webcast of Berry's speech showed a lecture room with a sparse audience of students and faculty. Berry earned a master's degree from Maxwell in 1981, and he noted that several other OPM officials also graduated from the school.

Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

By Ed O'Keefe  | November 2, 2009; 5:33 PM ET
Categories:  Agencies and Departments, Workplace Issues  
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