Editorial: Agencies Should Follow VA, Take Hard Look at Job Classifications

June 17, 2012

Hundreds of union members rallied at the Veterans Affairs Department headquarters last week to protest the downgrading of their jobs. VA is reviewing thousands of positions across the department — jobs ranging from medical support assistants to housekeepers, building maintenance workers and more — to standardize descriptions and grades throughout the agency.

In many cases, employees are seeing their grade levels lowered by one or two full grades. No one will suffer a pay cut as a result of this review, but the long-term implications for pay increases, promotions and pensions are significant, and that's what has employees up in arms. Nevertheless, VA should be applauded for trying to bring order and discipline to its chaotic job classification system.

Indeed, VA is doing something that should happen routinely in all agencies: redefining and updating job classifications to be consistent with the rest of the agency, the federal government as a whole and, ultimately, to be competitive in the overall employment market. Inflated grades and the higher salaries that come with them sap billions of dollars from government coffers that would be better used on other priorities. At VA, pay can differ wildly from one hospital to another, because each of the agency's 150-plus hospitals has had autonomy in classifying and compensating staff. So instead of running an efficient nationwide hospital network, VA has essentially been running a coalition of 150 independent hospitals.

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