Motivations to reach for excellence Council makes preliminary report

Federal workers

June 23, 1993|By Lisa Finnegan | Lisa Finnegan,States News Service

WASHINGTON -- Nobody seems to like the federal government -- not even its own employees.

But the National Advisory Council on the Public Service believes that the image can be improved and the best and brightest can be lured from high-paying jobs in the private sector to fill slots in government.

"We need to get the message out that there are a lot of people leaning into the wind to make your life easier," said council member Hal Daub, a former Nebraska congressman.

"We need to highlight some of the good things our people do -- things only they can do because they know government so well and know how to get things done," he said.

"I remember one time a woman who wasn't even in my district called me up when I was a congressman and said she had called me because I was the only member with my telephone number listed," Mr. Daub said. "She told me her son was in a hospital in Germany dying and needed to be flown back here immediately to receive treatment and she couldn't find anyone to help.

"I got on the phone to the Pentagon and made a few calls," he said. "Her son was flown out that night and received the attention he needed. I'm not saying I saved his life, but this is the kind of thing we should be highlighting. Things that are really good about our employees. What a commercial this would be."

The council was formed by Congress in 1990 to find ways to motivate federal employees to excel. This week, the five council committees presented preliminary reports describing what needs to be done to accomplish the goals.

To motivate employees to excel, the government needs to eliminate some of the grade levels, set a separate career track for technical experts so they can advance without having to become supervisors, and increase the employee-to-supervisor ratio.

"In some jobs, there are anywhere from one to 10 levels with different bands of pay depending on how long you have been there," said Rhea Farberman, a spokeswoman for the council. "The motivation is really to hang on -- not to excel."

In addition, the council suggested monetary awards for employees who help agencies save money.

"There needs to be a compensation system based more on performance than longevity," said Chase Untermeyer, who was assistant to the president for personnel and director of presidential personnel from 1988 to 1991. "People need to be motivated to do their best work and know they will profit from working hard."

Government agencies need to be more open with information, and employees need to receive training in customer service to teach them how to work with the public, the Public Understanding Committee reported.

"We need some positive commercials showing our people doing positive things," Mr. Daub said. "Something like profiles of federal employees working in Florida after the hurricane. We should get rid of Arnold Schwarzenegger promoting good fitness and get some real people out in front."

Allowing employees more flexible working hours also would help keep valuable people in government, council members said.

"It would allow us to extend the hours for the public," said John Brademas, a former Indiana congressman who is president of New York University. "We could see where it could be better implemented and how we could better serve the public."

What is imperative in government, Mr. Brademas said, is that when hard times hit, the federal workers aren't asked to sacrifice more than the general public.

"If a person sacrifices for a federal career, he shouldn't be singled out to bear greater than a fair share of sacrifice," he said. "We need to be fair and we need to make them feel they are wanted and needed."

The council will review the preliminary findings of the committees and compile a report that will be submitted to President Clinton in September.

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