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June 2002

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Volcker Commission To Address Service Reform


Judicial Compensation Will Be On Agenda

The second National Commission on the Public Service, also known as the Volcker Commission, has added judicial and employee compensation to the issues it is considering in the current federal service reform debate. The Commission is looking at the need for comprehensive reform in the federal public service and will make recommendations on closing the pay gap and lifting the pay ceiling, among other areas of concern, by the end of the year.

"Originally, the Commission was slated to study and report only on executive branch salaries," said Administrative Office Director Leonidas Ralph Mecham. "We are understandably pleased that the Commission now will consider the judges' plight." Federal judges have received only four cost-of- living increases in the last nine years, and have seen the value of their pay decrease by more than 13 percent since January 1993. Per-haps as a consequence, judges are leaving the bench at an unusual rate. Only five federal judges left the bench in the 1960s. However, more than 60 Article III judges retired or resigned from the bench between 1991 and 2002, the largest number of departures over such a period in the history of the Judiciary. In the first month of 2002 alone, two federal judges left the bench before retirement age, forfeiting any right to an an- nuity.

Closing the pay gap is among the areas of concern the Commission will address. Recent research suggests a growing pay gap exists between private sector and public jobs for the highest_ranking government employees, in part because of the escalating salaries of private executives but also due to growing pay compression at the top of the federal salary structure, including judicial branch employees.

The 11-member Commission is chaired by former Federal Reserve Board Chairman, Paul Volcker. Commissioners, drawn from both political parties, are former Senator Bill Bradley; former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin; former Secretary of Health and Human Services Donna Shalala; former Secretary of Defense Frank Carlucci; former Comptroller General Charles Bowsher; former head of the New York Metropolitan Transit Authority Richard Ravitch; former White House Chief of Staff Kenneth M. Duberstein; former Congressman Vin Weber; former Office of Personnel Management Director Connie Horner; and former Office of Management and Budget Director Franklin D. Raines.

The Commission met in March 2002, and plans two additional meetings, one on July 15, which will be a series of hearings to receive input, and the last in late 2002 at which recommendations for action and an action plan will be presented. Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist and Associate Justice Stephen Breyer will testify before the Commission in July. The final report will be promoted for congressional action in the 108th Congress.

The Commission was convened and will be administered by the Brookings Institution's Center for Public Service, and comes nearly 12 years after the first Volcker Commission was formed. In a 1989 report, the first Commission supported improved judicial compensation. The report may be a starting point for the present Commission, which has said it will draw upon existing analyses.