The Diary's mailbag is stuffed -- with pay issues at the top of the heap.
Columns in late July explored some of the questions being asked by federal employees about pay-for-performance systems underway in the Bush administration. Today's column shares some additional comments from readers interested in how the government compensates and motivates its workforce.
From a federal lawyer who is returning to the private sector:
"I find the current system inflexible and unfair. . . . While my supervisors tout the fact that I have all this experience in senior level management, they don't acknowledge that where it counts -- in my wallet every two weeks.
"I find it unmotivating to get paid a set amount regardless of the quality of my work. . . .
"I've seen some behavior in my short time in the government that probably would have led to firing in the private sector. I leave my government job with greater respect for the work that people do for all of us for nominal pay. At the same time, I am quite disgusted with the waste of money by people who should have been fired long ago."
From a federal scientist:
"Right now, civil service employees are somewhat 'buffered' from politically motivated actions of top management. Employees can openly debate, disagree with the policies and proposed actions of their agencies (within limits, of course) without fear of losing salary (however, there are other ways that management gets even!).
". . . With 'pay for performance' I wonder if I should just please my boss rather than fight for what I believe is right. As a staff scientist, we get into debates all the time. Right now, I feel somewhat protected in these debates. . . . With pay for performance, I will need to balance feeding my family against fighting for the public interest.
"We'll see how I do. . . . I am not optimistic."
From a federal retiree:
"In my immediate organization we had two long-term employees that should have been fired because they did next to no work, leaving their assignments to be shifted to others. I clearly sensed the supervisor did not have the time available to sacrifice mission work in order to increase the priority on needed discipline.
"In a parallel organization I observed a supervisor apply hundreds of man hours needed to pass through all the wickets to terminate an employee -- time that could not be taken and which compromised the mission.
"I was not in a supervisory position but witnessed the bind leaders were being placed in when faced with the dilemma of increased administrative time encroaching into their primary duties of leading an organization and getting a job done. I am therefore puzzled as to how newly proposed performance pay systems that will require substantially more time to administer to employees can be in the best interests of the government? I am also puzzled as to why this is not more of an issue?"
From a new federal supervisor:
"A merit-based system may not be the magic cure to the problems that plague the government workforce, but at least it is something new. And it's not a far-fetched idea, but rather it is something that has been the norm in the private sector for a long time. Of course this makes people, including myself, nervous. Who are we kidding, job security is a hallmark of the government; but as long as job security isn't threatened for those doing their job, a correctly implemented merit-based system could be a very good thing."
A Note to Readers
As you may have noticed, none of the readers quoted above is identified. They gave permission for me to excerpt from their e-mails but not to identify them by name or by agency.
I verified that they are, indeed, government employees or a relatively recent retiree, using telephone numbers they gave me. They wanted to make their points but avoid rocking the boat, risking retribution or embarrassing their agencies.
That's understandable -- and unfortunate. The pay-for-performance debate is dominated by Bush administration officials and union leaders. What's missing is the voice of front-line employees -- the point of this column.
I'd like to get a conversation going on pay-for-performance and federal compensation, but if you've got something to say, you need from now on to identify yourself and permit at least your name to be published. It's the only way to get political appointees and labor leaders to take your views seriously.