Revamped evaluation system set to begin

FEDERAL WORKERS

March 10, 2006|By MELISSA HARRIS

For several years, pay-for-performance has been the thrust of the White House's efforts to reshape government. These changes, which end automatic annual raises for federal workers, begin as early as next month at the Department of Defense and in January at the Department of Homeland Security.

At a conference in Baltimore last week, key Capitol Hill staff members expressed their reluctance to allow pay-for-performance to spread beyond the two agencies, but the government is laying the groundwork for it. The key phrase in this shift is called "line of sight."

Line of sight creates the "performance" part of "pay-for-performance" and, most importantly, doesn't require congressional approval. It does, however, require a fundamental change in the way federal managers rate their employees.

In more concrete terms, the "line of sight" concept will result in every worker's performance review changing from "pass or fail" to a more nuanced, multitiered rating system, said Marta Brito Perez of the Office of Personnel Management.

"It is the single most important thing you can do to motivate employees and individual employee performance," said J. Christopher Mihm, director of strategic issues for the Government Accountability Office. "It's creating a clear vision between what someone does on a day-to-day basis and the agency's larger results. ... When there's no line of sight, that's when people do lousy work because they don't have a clear understanding of how their work matters."

Under the old system, a worker's annual performance evaluation would say, "Attend a training seminar." Under line of sight, the evaluation might say, "Attend a management training seminar and implement three changes that result in a reduction in customers' wait times at your call centers."

Perez said that even her standards have changed from "provide training on performance management" to ensure that a specific number of agencies start "results-oriented systems that provide a clear line of sight."

The first benchmark "is not specific enough and is very difficult to tie to pay," Perez said, adding that workers can't be judged anymore on process. "It's not, `I went to a conference.' It's `What did you do as result of your participation at that conference?'"

Of the 26 agencies that OPM scores every quarter on performance management, 18 have earned a green light on this issue - but Homeland Security and Defense are not among them. The ratings are based on audits of managers' and employees' performance goals.

However, Mihm said that most agencies are "nowhere near" complete use of this concept. He said that it takes time and training for managers to really understand how to convey expectations, provide feedback and then solicit input from employees about what they need to meet those expectations.

"Especially in government, people's individual involvement can be mundane, such as checking a form for accuracy or cutting a disability check," Mihm said. Line of sight can be used to show how "it may seem that what you're doing is mundane - ka-ching, ka-ching all day long - but it's related to something that's important and meaningful. Such as, `97 percent of the disability forms you process have been found to be accurate.'"

Military commission

A 13-member commission this week began its review of the country's National Guard and Reserve forces amid tension over who controls the units, which have been strained by multiple deployments overseas and natural disasters at home.

Retired Marine Maj. Gen. Arnold Punaro, a former Senate Armed Services Committee staff director, will chair the commission created by Congress and will deliver an interim report in 90 days and a final report at the end of one year. The first report will be done in time to influence Congress' military spending next year.

More than 120,000 part-time military personnel were on active duty at the start of the commission's work. Governors, who typically control National Guard units, have expressed concerns that their soldiers are returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with damaged equipment or none at all, having left it behind for replacement troops. They also are worried about their own abilities to respond to local emergencies, such as hurricanes, while so many of their troops are overseas.

Part-time forces "are organized, trained and equipped to respond to emergencies, to be able to serve alongside their active-duty counterparts," Punaro told the American Forces Press Service. "If they wanted to be on active duty 365 days out of the year for 10 years in a row, they would be serving in the active-duty military, they wouldn't be in the reserves."

Dipping into 401(k)

Treasury Secretary John W. Snow has tapped another part of federal workers' retirement plans to prevent hitting the maximum amount of money Uncle Sam is allowed to borrow.

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