Government Accountability Office

WaPo Federal Diary – GAO Gets New Name, Permission to Launch New Compensation System

It’s official: GAO now stands for Government Accountability Office.

The congressional watchdog agency, once known as the General Accounting Office, got its new name last week when President Bush signed legislation that will permit Comptroller General David M. Walker to embark on a new compensation system for GAO employees.

I heard about the proposed name change several months ago talking to a GAO senior manager while attending the Fletcher Conference. It actually makes a great deal of sense–the GAO has long evolved beyond its narrow role of monitoring federal accounting practices. Plus, I could never remember if the “G” stood for “General” or “Government.”

The more substantive part of the bill will be more controversial, although it marks a growing trend in federal employment.

The law, known as the GAO Human Capital Reform Act, will allow the agency to break its link to the federal employee pay system and adopt compensation practices that are more closely tied to job performance and other factors. The legislation, proposed about a year ago, was sponsored by Rep. Jo Ann S. Davis (R-Va.) and Sen. George V. Voinovich (R-Ohio). “Congress relies specifically on the judgments of the comptroller general to manage his workforce to produce quality and timely information for our use,” Davis said in a statement. “He has demonstrated good faith and earned our confidence,” Davis added.

This year, Walker outlined plans for a compensation and classification review that he hopes will provide “equal pay for work of equal value over time” and also help the GAO control payroll costs in lean budget times. The proposal has caused concern for some of the GAO’s 3,200 employees, in part because it raises the possibility that some employees, because of job status or where salary lines get drawn, might not receive the standard general pay increase that Congress provides to federal employees each year.

While I agree with the goal of giving managers more flexibility and allowing the most competent employees to rise more quickly, there is certainly plenty of potential for abuse here. And I’ve long believed that cost of living raises should be across the board for all federal employees from the President down to the E-1/GS-1 level, as well as federal and military retirees.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.