Monday, March 28, 2005

Our Civil Service Deserves the Benefits

This weekend, The Washington Post ran a story covering the possibility of a complete overhaul of labor rules for federal government employees.

New personnel regulations at the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Defense will dramatically change the way 860,000 workers there are paid, promoted, demoted and disciplined. The plan is to spread the changes throughout all the land of federal government. No more automatic raises. No more simple pass-fail evaluations. No more Job for Life.

This article is rather biased in a pro-union direction and makes it sound as if the sky itself is about to fall. But it doesn’t have to be that way. If the unions are smart, they’ll realize that holding on to the antiquated federal government labor system is the wrong fight. The system is overburdened with complications and is poor at motivating its workforce as this 2002 Brookings Institute study points out.

What the unions should do is aggressively remind Congress, the President and the American people that civil service is just that, a service. These employees have agreed to work unglamorous jobs that will never make them rich as a service to the country. Our thanks to them, our obligation to them, is to provide better benefits and better hours than they’d find at comparable jobs in the private sector.

Yes, the current system of rewarding longevity over performance has to go. Hiring needs to be simplified. And managers should have more leeway to terminate problem employees. But our federal employees deserve every one of their benefits.

Government workers, like all Americans, will have to live without the rock-solid job security of decades past. But the Bush Administration needs to realize that the federal government cannot and should not work exactly like the private sector because, well, it ISN’T the private sector. If the feds want to continue to find people to fill unglamorous jobs at unglamorous wages, they better keep the benefits strong and reward those willing to be servants to their country’s civil needs.

The unions would do well to fight for their benefits, not the structure.


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