GSA Expands Bonus Program, but Payouts May Shrink

By Stephen Barr
Wednesday, August 15, 2007

More bonuses are in the works at the General Services Administration.

Lurita A. Doan, the head of the GSA, has expanded the number of employees eligible for performance awards, saying that a previous policy "excluded many employees who are vital to GSA's business success."

Under the old policy, employees who received the top two ratings in the agency's performance-recognition system -- a 4 or 5 on a five-level scale -- were eligible for bonuses. Doan, in a memo to the GSA staff Aug. 7, said she had decided employees given a Level 3 rating also should be eligible.

The new policy is to be implemented by the end of the current rating period, Sept. 30, Doan said. She noted in her memo that implementing the change would hinge on GSA offices updating their employee-evaluation procedures and the outcome of agency discussions with unions on the new policy.

Doan has been under fire from Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which is examining allegations that she violated the Hatch Act by asking GSA political appointees how they could "help our candidates" during a briefing this year at the agency by a White House official.

A report on Doan prepared by the federal Office of Special Counsel quoted her as telling investigators that some witnesses in the probe were poor performers "and they will not be getting bonuses or special awards or anything of that nature."

Waxman admonished Doan for the comments and said his committee would hold officials accountable if they threaten employees "who tell the truth to the Congress."

Despite the dispute, the GSA is rated as one of the best places to work in the federal government, according to an index created by the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service and American University.

The GSA, popularly known as the government's landlord, has about 12,000 employees who help agencies buy supplies and services, including technology, and provides options for leasing office space, cars and consultants.

The 2007 rankings showed that GSA employees gave fairly high marks to the agency in areas such as teamwork and training but were less pleased with the bonus and promotion systems for rank-and-file employees.

Gail Lovelace, the GSA chief personnel officer, said that the agency regularly reassesses its workforce programs and that it decided it was time to modify the bonus-eligibility policy. She predicted that employees "will be thrilled for the most part" by Doan's decision.

Lovelace said, however, that the agency's budget for bonuses would not grow, raising the possibility that bonuses may be smaller. Officials are studying how to manage the transition and ensure that employees are treated fairly.

"We have to make sure we are implementing in a way that continues to motivate them to high performance," she said.

In the 2006 ratings, 13 percent of GSA employees received bonuses for extraordinary job performance; 45 percent earned bonuses for exceeding the goals in their job performance plans, and 36 percent were rated at Level 3, for getting their job done or doing their job well, Lovelace said.

The remainder of the employees, 6 percent, were deemed to be having problems in their jobs, to be failing at work, or were not rated because they were recently hired. Employees who are struggling to meet expectations at the GSA are put on performance-improvement plans.

Under the previous policy, employees with the top rating, Level 5, were eligible for a bonus of up to 6 percent of their base pay, and those rated at Level 4 could receive up to 4 percent of salary as a bonus.

Labor Troubles at Labor Board

There are labor woes at the National Labor Relations Board, and some unionized employees are calling for the resignation of the board's general counsel, Ronald Meisburg.

Members of the National Labor Relations Board Union, which plans to picket at the board's headquarters today, contend that Meisburg is defying a federal ruling that allowed the union to consolidate four bargaining units into one.

Eric Brooks, the union president, said Meisburg is engaging in the same kind of conduct that he is supposed to stop when it is done in the private sector. "The agency is violating the law," Brooks said.

Meisburg has declined to bargain with the union over the consolidation because he thinks it would undercut the law that established the NLRB, according to an agency statement. The law set up the position of general counsel as an independent prosecutor, separate from the board, which acts more like a court.

But the Federal Labor Relations Authority, which oversees labor-management practices in the government, rejected Meisburg's arguments. FLRA officials found that bargaining for the board and the general counsel headquarters units has been conducted jointly for about 30 years and that the board and general counsel operate by consensus so that the NLRB has "a unified agency policy applicable to all employees."

The union has filed an unfair labor practice complaint against the NLRB, and the matter is under investigation by the Federal Labor Relations Authority. It's possible the dispute could end up in federal court, Brooks said.

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