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Is pay-for-performance truly dead?

Guest entry by writer Brian Robinson.

Is the government always going to be unable to make pay-for-performance work?

It seems strange that no proposal yet has been able to unseat the General Schedule system, said Howard Risher, an independent consultant. There's not one true advocate for the GS system in government, and many critics, yet it persists as the best available option.

The most visible recent effort to tie pay to job performance, the Defense Department's National Security Personnel System, crashed and burned, just like most of the large-scale efforts before it.

“The DOD didn’t get buy-in early on for this,” said John Palguta, vice president for policy at the Partnership for Public Service. “It ended up being an overly elaborate system and managers were spending all of their time on it.”

However, Congress now seems content to just continue the current pay freeze and ignore the big issues, said Jon Desenberg, senior policy director for the Performance Institute. The people who really care about the issue have left government, he said, “and I have not been impressed by the depth of knowledge of the current freshman group of congressmen.”

Posted on Oct 05, 2011 at 7:26 PM

Reader Comments

Wed, Nov 2, 2011 Rick

The good ole boy systems works in both NSPS and GS.. Either way it happens... Seen it and been a victim of it...

Fri, Oct 7, 2011 Mark California

I have been working for a Navy Organization for 28 years. They have had a Pay-for-Performance system in place the entire time and it has worked well. In fact, this system was used as a model for many of the Pay-for-Performance systems adopted across DoD. Granted, most of these systems sprung up in Research and Development organizations which are probably not typical of the rest of the Federal Government. When we were moved out of NSPS, we immediately created the Science and Technology Reinvention Laboratory (STRL) pay plan as a replacement. We took the best of what had existed before NSPS and the best of NSPS and jetisoned the worst of both. I believe the biggest failure of NSPS was the inertia of the Unions. This was going to mean change and change isn't good. Just my two cents worth. Our system has been highly successful both before and since NSPS.

Fri, Oct 7, 2011

Some DOC agencies have used APMS for more than 10 years. Check this out to improve the accuracy of your article...

Fri, Oct 7, 2011

With all of the much more urgent and backlogged tasks Congress and the FedGov in general has on their plate, why is anyone spending time on this right now? Reorganizing and rationalizing the Byzantine FedGov org chart, and getting rid of even part of the massive duplication of mission, would save much more money than an unenforcable PfP system. Few federal jobs can have meaningful hard metrics applied to them. Without a metric, you are right back to good-old-boy evaluations, and kissing the bosses posterior. Here's an idea- why not assume everyone is doing a decent job, unless otherwise documented, either as a 'fail' or as a 'shining star'? After 30 years, I am convinced the entire annual appraisal system (basically modeled after the military) is a net waste of taxpayer's money. The few benefits are far outweighed by all the wasted manhours and paper pushing. NSPS failed because it was a time-sucker, so supervisors just filled in whatever blanks would get it off their desk.

Fri, Oct 7, 2011 Ron

NSPS seemed to work, except for the fact it was a mouse built to government standards (elephant), as Palguta pointed out. In our groups it made many of our stereotype government workers actually have to do some work to get an increase, since even the cost of living increases were tied to performance.

I hear a lot of stories about how the low man on the totem pole did not get any benefit from NSPS, and I have two co-workers (both with over 25 years) who say the same. But those two people are the ones who gripe about everything, you can never find them, when you do find them they are usually sitting around BS'ing or doing non-work related activities, and they have low production numbers (yes, even government engineers have production numbers).

I am not in management or supervision, I am a GS 12 855 Engineer with 18 years of industry and 11 years of civil service experience (I think that is about a GS 13/14 on the east coast from what some folks say). The only thing I saw different about NSPS from what people who have to work for a living get evaluated by, was the tremendous amount of paper work that had to be done by NSPS.

One big thing that killed NSPS was the unions and their deal with Obama since they could not predict what their favorite folks would get paid, and that most of them would not get a raise if they had to produce product and not politics (I see that in the union side of the job, the good workers have to stop working because it is the union mandated time to stop, even though stopping 20 minutes later would be more cost effective). I know that those at my base who worked liked NSPS and those who did not work missed the automatic pay raises.

To answer the main question, unless NSPS can be made more like the graft ridden, good old boy, favoritism driven GS system, then it will not fly. And as a caveat, some places do use the GS system like it is suppose to be and are doing well, but we also have several third level managers who got there by other "means" and have ruined every group they have been in on the way up, and are still doing it.

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