Letters

The trouble with NSPS lies with the raters
Regarding “DOD civilian workers to get performance paychecks tomorrow” [FCW.com, Jan. 23]: The National Security Personnel System is already very flawed, and it doesn’t take a Ph.D. to figure it out. The problem with having NSPS is not NSPS itself.

It is who administers the reviews and how they do it.

I just received a Level 3 for what was agreed and justifiably a Level 4 performance with +1 on a couple of objectives. So why did I get a Level 3? Inexperienced officers should not rate civilians under this system. I spent nearly two hours going over NSPS with a rater who had little knowledge of the impact of not setting aside an appropriate amount of time to write an unbiased review. I explained how that could have been accomplished within the guidelines. I gave the rater my personal copy of the performance management guidelines and tools (SC1940). The rater had not read the publication and was unfamiliar with most of the requirements to include proper documentation and counseling.

The bottom line is that an employee can work extremely hard, volunteer, and take on all the responsibility in the world, and not be properly rewarded.

John L.Wright

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Contractors can’t solve management problems
In reference to “Kelman: Too many contractors?” [FCW, Dec. 17, 2007]: Two supplemental points should be made regarding government and management.

There is nothing wrong with the federal system of employment.

Ninety percent of the problems are caused by inexperienced, untrained and/or incompetent managers and human resources employees who are unwilling to trouble themselves with the process of removing underperforming employees.

It is correct to say that the federal government outsources to avoid its internal weaknesses. However, the federal employees charged with overseeing those contracts are just like their supervisors — inexperienced, untrained, incompetent and poorly supported — which means we just pay more money to push the problems farther away because those employees can’t properly manage a contract and achieve the intended goals.

In 15 years at one office, I’ve seen good managers and bad take the office to the heights and the depths in terms of accomplishing the mission. But most of the managers were bad and most of the time the real work did not get done. A favorite technique when things got really bad was to hire consultants or let contractors “turn things around” when the real problem was that the managers had no ability and no commitment to the mission.

Name withheld by request

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Smithsonian records readily searchable
Regarding “Schwartz: Focusing on searchability” [FCW, Jan. 7]: All of the databases in the Smithsonian Institution Research Information System (SIRIS) are site-mapped according to the international standard and have been crawled by many robots.

SIRIS has 1,679,277 records available via the sitemaps to crawlers such as Googlebot. According to Google, 1,567,170 records from SIRIS, or 93 percent, are included in the Google index. We started working on the sitemaps in February 2007 and worked directly with Google engineers in June to enhance the accessibility and ranking of our records.

We understand that the public expects to find all Smithsonian information in one system, but as stated on our home page, SIRIS contains only information from the Smithsonian’s libraries, archives and the Smithsonian America n Art Museum’s research databases. The museum collections information is available through other systems described on the Smithsonian’s home page. However, efforts are under way to make one-stop searching available to the public in the future.

We continue to work hard to raise the visibility of our data to the public through multiple channels, including search engines.

Ching-hsien Wang and George Bowman
Smithsonian Institution Research Information System

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What are the benefits of software as a service?
In response to the story “Agencies not yet sold on software as a service” [FCW.com, Jan. 16]: I’m a manager in my agency’s procurement office. I don’t understand the difference between buying software to support 1,000 people and calling it a service, and my buying one copy of Microsoft Office 2007 from Best Buy or Staples. I know this is a simplified example, but from my perspective, either way, the software in and of itself is still a commodity, like hardware. What real advantage or savings does the government achieve by buying software as a service? My agency has several contracts with a large telecommunications company. About two years ago, they stopped selling network-routing hardware with the incidental maintenance and installation support that would normally be part of the purchase. The only way you can get this [support] from them now is to buy a “service” that includes a plethora of services you might or might not need but that the company promotes as being absolutely essential to support the hardware on today’s complex IT networks and enterprises. I don’t buy it.

Name withheld by request

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Feds should have nothing to hide
Regarding “Court considers dismissing JPL HSPD-12 lawsuit” [FCW.com, Jan. 8]: All these people work for the U.S. government.

There is always material around an office/ lab that should not be widespread. If these workers won’t agree to a background check, what are they trying to hide? Give them 90 days to take the background check — or send them out the door!

Gordon J. Dey 

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