Rep. Davis: Give president fast-track reorganization authority

Congress should give the president fast-track authority to reorganize government agencies to prevent the squabbling that hampered the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, a key House lawmaker said.

Rep. Tom Davis, chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, called the long legislative process to set up the new department a fiasco because of turf wars in Congress. The bill setting up the department was introduced in June 2002 and became law in November.

Reorganization authority eliminates turf wars, Davis said, because Congress votes yea or nay on reorganization plans put forth by the executive branch. Lawmakers cannot change the plans before voting.

"It took longer than it should have to pass the legislation. They just got the duct tape off the headquarters last week," Davis said March 10 at a Washington luncheon held by the IBM Endowment for the Business of Government. President Bush officially welcomed employees to the department Feb. 28. Since Jan. 24, it had been operating with a few hundred officials.

Davis, a Republican from Virginia, also advocated reforming the pay structure for government workers to allow pay-for-performance or merit pay. Acknowledging that changing the federal government's pay structure would be difficult, Davis said his committee would hold a hearing on pay for performance and work closely with counterparts in the Senate on the issue.

Davis said that at a minimum he would like to see another pilot pay-for-performance program. Pilot projects are ongoing at the Federal Aviation Administration and the Internal Revenue Service.

"I'm not interested in pushing a bill through the House to have it die in the Senate," he said.

Today's civil service is based more on seniority than on merit, which discourages staff from staying in government and hinders innovation. In particular, the government's ability to do information technology work has been greatly diminished because agencies can't adequately reward staff, Davis said.

"By default, so many tech jobs are being outsourced because we don't have the capability," Davis said. He said unions and other organizations lobbying against outsourcing should collaborate with Congress on pay reforms, rather than fighting them, because workers who are well rewarded will stay in the government longer, bolstering its capability to do the work.

"If you don't work with us for some meaningful civil service reform, you're not going to have a shot at [the work]," Davis said.

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