FCW Insider


Is pay-for-performance truly dead?

Guest entry by writer Brian Robinson.

Is the government always going to be unable to make pay-for-performance work?

It seems strange that no proposal yet has been able to unseat the General Schedule system, said Howard Risher, an independent consultant. There's not one true advocate for the GS system in government, and many critics, yet it persists as the best available option.

The most visible recent effort to tie pay to job performance, the Defense Department's National Security Personnel System, crashed and burned, just like most of the large-scale efforts before it.

“The DOD didn’t get buy-in early on for this,” said John Palguta, vice president for policy at the Partnership for Public Service. “It ended up being an overly elaborate system and managers were spending all of their time on it.”

However, Congress now seems content to just continue the current pay freeze and ignore the big issues, said Jon Desenberg, senior policy director for the Performance Institute. The people who really care about the issue have left government, he said, “and I have not been impressed by the depth of knowledge of the current freshman group of congressmen.”

Posted on Oct 05, 2011 at 12:18 PM6 comments


How long can we operate without a budget?

The nation has been whipsawed this year by budget arguments in Congress that run perilously close to forcing a shutdown before coming back from the brink, just briefly,  before the whole cycle starts over again.

Beyond the obvious stress on federal employees, who can’t count on having a paycheck during the period when the shutdown looks possible, this isn’t good for anyone, except for posturing members of Congress. And maybe not even for them.

Congress didn't reach a final agreement on the fiscal 2011 budget until April, more than halfway through the fiscal year. And before that, the last budget Congress passed was on April 29, 2009. The country has been largely running on continuing resolutions, temporary stopgap measures that preserve existing or reduced levels of funding for a set period of time and then expire, starting the negotiations all over again.

This calendar year, those negotiations have been contentious enough that the very real chance of a shutdown has arisen three times (twice over spending bills, once over the debt ceiling), and there’ll be at least one more opportunity before the year ends. (That fourth chance will be in a different fiscal year.)

At least one member of Congress, Rep. Ann Marie Buerkle (R-NY), tried to give her colleagues more incentive to pass a budget. A bill she introduced in June, the “Just Do Your Job Act of 2011” (HR 2372), would have defunded Congressional budget committees and majority leadership offices if Congress failed to pass a budget.

But her bill, despite having attracted six co-sponsors, was referred to the Committee on House Administration on the day it was introduced and went no further, according to the Library of Congress’s Thomas.loc.gov site. Buerkle's bill applied only to the budgets for fiscal years 2011 and 2012, but many FCW readers have similarly suggested that Congress should not get paid when it fails to pass a budget. However, given that the very people who can't get budgets passed are the ones who would vote on such a proposal, it seems like an unlikely step.

We’re not sure how to solve this problem, but we are pretty sure it’s going to become an increasingly dangerous problem if it’s not solved soon. The nation can’t function for long on stop-gap funding and angry rhetoric. Congress just needs to do its job.

Any solutions out there?

Posted on Sep 29, 2011 at 12:18 PM18 comments


5 keys to improving federal procurement

Guest post from FCW Editor-in-Chief John Monroe.

Rather than bringing more innovation to the acquisition process, the federal government would be better off just trying to get the basics right, according to one reader.

The reader, signed as KRL, was responding to a recent post by FCW blogger and columnist Steve Kelman, who was defending the use of procurement contests or challenges as a low-risk way to solicit new ideas.

KRL, a seasoned veteran of the federal acquisition business, is not against innovation, per se. It’s just that eventually the federal government will need to focus on dealing with more fundamental problems in the procurement process.

“In my 27 years, we have come full circle so many times from the concept of 'innovation' back to the basics in the FAR that I sometimes get dizzy,” KRL writes. “Is today an innovation day or a back-to-basics day?”

The reader outlines five such fundamentals:

1) Hire people who know what they are doing and provide continuous training.
2) Hire outstanding young people then have the ‘grey hairs’ train and mentor them well.
3) Emphasize the importance of well-planned projects.
4) Encourage well-executed projects.
5) Get the politicians out of federal procurement.

KRL is particularly insistent on that last point. “Politicians have no clue how the system works much less what is in the FAR, and their constant playing with funding of programs is the primary cause of wasted dollars as they abuse the system.”

What do you think?

Posted on Sep 02, 2011 at 12:18 PM3 comments