Performance bonuses are pass-fail at TSA

As the Transportation Security Administration tries to establish a results-oriented work culture, the fledgling agency is using an interim performance management system to decide who gets bonuses, the General Accounting Office said in a report today.

The interim system, borrowed from the Federal Aviation Administration, sets expectations at the start of each employee's appraisal cycle. It provides supervisor feedback halfway through and ends with one of only two outcomes: fully satisfactory performance meriting a bonus, or unacceptable performance.

"We have observed that such a pass-fail system does not provide enough meaningful dispersion to reward top performers, help everyone attain maximum potential and deal with poor performers," the auditors said in GAO-03-190, "Actions and Plans Build a Results-Oriented Culture."

GAO advised TSA to include employees in designing a permanent system and to link individuals' performance to the overall mission. It also advised bringing together outside stakeholders "in matrixed relationships of government, private-sector and nongovernment organizations."

The auditors said TSA is currently signing numerous individual memoranda with other bodies to set lines of authority. But, GAO said, "Agencies can promote greater transparency by publicizing what they intend to achieve and being held accountable."

To improve TSA's work, the report advised hiring an ombudsman and setting up customer satisfaction systems. It said the agency should emphasize:

  • Results rather than processes

  • Matrixes rather than stovepipes

  • External orientation and knowledge sharing

  • Risk management rather than risk avoidance.

  • "Never has a results-oriented focus been more critical," GAO concluded.

    Click here to link to the report at

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