WASHINGTON – When Baltimore County gave its workers a penny for their thoughts, it wound up saving $4.1 million.
That is just one of the advantages that the federal workforce could get from the “gainsharing” program that he implemented while he was Baltimore County executive, said Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, D-Cockeysville, in testimony to a House subcommittee Tuesday.
The freshman congressman told the Subcommittee on Civil Service and Agency Organization that “gainsharing” trains employees to find ways to save money, and they share in the savings.
“Gainsharing rewards employees for making improvements that reduce costs without compromising quality and service objectives,” Ruppersberger said. “Gainsharing is a program that works. It saves money, but more importantly it boosts morale and it makes government service more responsive and cost effective.”
The hearing was called in response to President Bush’s call for a pay-for- performance plan for federal workers, and was a follow-up to a March hearing on the National Commission on the Public Service report that called for “sweeping changes” to help recruit and retain federal workers.
During that earlier hearing, Ruppersberger shared some of the things that he had been through with his experience in Baltimore County, which is why committee staffers asked him to testify Tuesday.
“We asked to him to testify as lessons learned from someone who had experience,” said Rob White, the subcommittee spokesman.
White said there is no legislation on the table now, but that the subcommittee wanted to start a conversation on the issue. The subcommittee chairwoman said she would keep an open mind during testimony from the “broad and knowledgeable array of voices” gathered at the hearing.
“The subject of compensation reform gets right at the heart of many of the challenges facing civil service, from recruitment and retention to improving the efficiency and performance of the government itself,” Rep. Jo Ann Davis, R-Va., said.
Several union leaders testified that, while there is a need for reform, it needs to be done carefully.
Jacqueline Simon said the American Federation of Government Employees thinks that rewards for excellence and extraordinary acts should be a supplement to a fully funded regular pay system — not a substitute for it.
“AFGE is supportive of congressional attention toward the inadequacy of federal pay,” said Simon, the union’s public policy director, in a prepared statement. “We are also supportive of those who are looking for ways to reward federal employees financially for excellent and extraordinary performance.”
The president of the National Treasury Employees Union also expressed some concerns with a pay-for-performance program.
“One thing that is certain . . . is that in places where some version of pay for performance has been implemented, complicated questions and concerns have been raised that have yet to be resolved,” said NTEU President Colleen M. Kelley.
She cited programs at the Federal Aviation Administration and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, which she said had not been successful.
Ruppersberger said gainsharing rewards employees with money — but that it is more than just that.
“Gainsharing is not just about employees gaining additional money for performance. It is about the employees becoming shareholders in the government,” he said. “As a result we will have improved morale which leads to improved government performance.”
In addition to Ruppersberger and the union officials, other agencies represented at the hearing included the National Commission on the Public Service, the Partnership for Public Service, the U.S. General Accounting Office, the Senior Executives Association and the Office of Personnel Management.