Federal Diary: Rebuild Pay-for-Performance System, Pentagon Panel Says

The recommendation was sent to OPM Director John Berry.
The recommendation was sent to OPM Director John Berry. (Courtesy Of Will Kirk/johns Hopkins - Courtesy Of Will Kirk/johns Hopkins)
By Joe Davidson
Wednesday, August 26, 2009

RENO, Nev., A Pentagon panel has concluded that the Defense Department's method of evaluating and paying its civilian employees is too broken to fix, yet is good enough that it should not be abolished.

In a report released Tuesday, the Defense Business Board recommended a "reconstruction" of the National Security Personnel System. The recommendation by the board's "task group" was sent to Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry and Deputy Defense Secretary William J. Lynn. The report is the result of a Defense Department and OPM decision to review NSPS, which has been controversial since it was created during George W. Bush's administration.

The document elaborates on recommendations made by the task group last month. "A 'fix' could not address the depth of the systemic problems discovered," the report says. But then it adds: "The Task Group does not recommend an abolishment of the NSPS because the performance management system that has been created is achieving alignment of employee goals with organizational goals."

Yet, the level of reconstruction the board suggests for NSPS could, in fact, result in a whole new system.

"It might," Robert Tobias, a member of the three-person task group, conceded in an interview. "It should be reconstructed from scratch."

Tobias, an American University professor and a former federal union leader, also pointed to a footnote in the 20-page report that says the group thinks the name of the system should be changed.

So, if the personnel system is reconstructed from scratch and its name is changed, what is left is a whole new system.

But because the panel talks in terms of reconstruction, instead of destruction, it has drawn the anger of organized labor, even though its members are not covered by NSPS.

"You got the diagnosis right, but you are way off on the cure," John Gage, president of the American Federation of Government Employees, said in a letter to the board.

"The Task Group miscalculated the intensity of hatred toward the system and its name," Gage added. In the letter, released at the union's convention here, Gage asked why the Defense Department "isn't holding those responsible for NSPS accountable and terminating them for this colossal failure."

Gage was even put off by the report's call for the reconstruction to include "a true engagement of the workforce in designing needed changes and implementation" and for the reestablishment of a Department of Defense "commitment to partnership and collaborating with employees through their unions."

That was "an unintended insult," Gage said. "The original law required collaboration from the onset, but DOD leaders and staff were dismissive and arrogant."

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