The Office of Personnel Management is going all out to develop a "credible" performance ranking system that federal agencies will use to help decide who goes and who stays in future layoffs, and to set merit pay raises for 150,000 managers and supervisors.

OPM (as reported here April 28) is working on new RIF (reduction in force) rules that will deemphasize seniority and give extra fire-proofing to workers who get good performance appraisals from their bosses.

Officials hope to have the new layoff regulations ready before the new fiscal year begins in October.

Because of budget cuts and lower personnel ceilings, many federal agencies anticipate a new round of RIFs will begin this fall that could dwarf economy-inspired layoffs that took place this year and last.

More than 9,000 federal workers were fired -- about 2,900 in the metro Washington area -- during the last round of RIFs. Under existing rules, the retention standing of employes in RIFs is determined by their veterans status and seniority. Workers with "outstanding" job ratings also get credit for two additional years of service when facing RIFs.

Many people have criticized the seniority system, which they say discriminates against younger workers. Veterans preference has been under attack for years, mainly from women's groups, because 98 percent of the feds with veterans' preference are men.

Performance appraisals also determine how much of a pay raise managers and supervisors get each year. About 60,000 of the Grade 13 through 15 GM (general manager) people are in metro Washington.

Persons under merit pay are guaranteed only one-half of the percentage pay raise their subordinates get each October. To get more they must get good marks from their bosses. Because GM personnel do not get longevity raises (worth 3 percent) and quality step increases that go to other workers, many of the merit pay types last year got smaller percentage increases than did people outside of merit pay. The system was set up by the Carter administration.

OPM hopes to have a fine-tuned performance appraisal system ready by mid-summer. To honcho the operation, OPM is bringing in John Fossum, now Agriculture's personnel chief. He will head up a major new OPM office to establish the new performance appraisal system and link it to merit pay, RIF retention and incentive awards.

Fossum will join OPM in early July.

Many of the people who don't like RIF rules that give preference to veterans and longtime workers are equally worried about giving added weight to performance appraisals. They fear this would give political chiefs even more power to pick future RIF victims, by ordering good performance ratings for the politically faithful and bad ones for people they would like to see RIFfed.

Fossum's task, which may be "mission impossible," will be to come up with a system that everybody under the threat of RIFs considers fair.