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Pay Unrelated to Performance, Workers Say

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By Stephen Barr
Monday, February 12, 2007

The results are in, but what they mean is by no means settled.

In a government-wide survey, federal employees were presented with this statement: "Pay raises depend on how well employees perform their jobs."

The responses: 45 percent disagreed with the statement, 22 percent agreed, and 25 percent were neutral.

The query had not appeared on previous government-wide surveys and was added to the most recent one by the Office of Personnel Management in hopes of better understanding employee attitudes on pay. The Bush administration has called for more closely linking pay raises to job performance, and two large departments, Homeland Security and Defense, are moving to set up performance-based pay systems, which would give managers greater discretion in setting salaries.

It is not surprising to some civil service experts that a high percentage of employees do not see their pay as linked to job performance.

The majority of federal employees in the survey are covered by the General Schedule system, where pay, by and large, is dependent on time in the job and not how the employee performs, said John M. Palguta, a vice president at the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service.

"The responses are an accurate reflection for the government as a whole," he said. "Pay raises are not heavily dependent on job performance."

Howard Risher, a consultant who has studied federal compensation practices, said the General Schedule, which was designed more than 50 years ago, has failed to recognize and reward the best employees in the civil service.

"I have heard the phrase 'living and breathing increases' more than a couple of times," he said. "I've also been told promotions are virtually automatic in the early years of their careers."

The employee survey was conducted during the summer of 2006. More than 221,400 employees completed it, for a response rate of 57 percent. The pay-and-performance question received the highest negative rating in the survey, OPM said.

But it was not the only troublesome response in the survey. About 35 percent of the federal employees said promotions are not based on merit, 36 percent did not see differences in performance "recognized in a meaningful way," and 33 percent said bonuses do not depend on how well employees perform their jobs.

The survey results have raised questions about whether the government is ready to transition to more rigorous systems that reward performance.


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© 2007 The Washington Post Company

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