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


Kundra's 'IT cartel:' Fact or fiction?

Does a “cartel” of contractors exert inordinate control over government contracting, encouraging agencies to stick with dated technologies and slowing the move to cloud computing and other updates?

Former Federal CIO Vivek Kundra thinks so, and said so in an editorial he published in the New York Times. Our report on his comments drew fire from readers on both sides of the argument.

“Darth Vader Mentor” admitted being “not a fan of Kundra” before partially agreeing with Kundra’s argument.

"Many CIO's think that big firms are good for government," Mr. Vader wrote. "The result is more often than not the inverse. Unfortunately, this statement is typical Kundra. He points out the flaw, but never the solution. The solution lies in re-educating the upper management or replacing it if they cannot be unbiased to big firms.”

“I don't entirely agree with [using] ‘the cloud’ for everything, but I do absolutely agree with the concept of the contractor cartel holding up agencies from maximizing taxpayer dollars on IT projects,” another reader wrote. “Having spent my career doing federal IT, both as a contractor and a fed, I know first hand the woes and dysfunctions of this relationship.”

Other readers dismissed Kundra’s allegations.

“Kundra's most recent comments are much like most of his other contributions to the government IT community: looks good, sounds good and does no good,” one critic wrote. “I find it difficult to see how the IT contractor cartel, a creation of the government’s own ludicrous contracting machinery, is holding back new technology. They thrive not only on change, but even more on thrash.”

Another reader agreed there’s a problem, but disagreed with Kundra’s diagnosis of the cause. “For at least 20 years, government has allowed contractors to create a monster of processes and controls and boards that require even more contractors to keep track of,” that reader wrote. “Over-dependence on profit-minded contractors instead of maintaining a technically competent government workforce has gotten the government where it is today.”

Kundra’s tenure as federal CIO was polarizing – some hailed him as a visionary, while others thought his ideas were academic and impractical – and in his departure, he’s no less divisive.

“Nice of Kundra to take strike a few low blows on his way out the door,” wrote a reader in the latter camp. “It appears his cloud-first policy was not going as smoothly as he would have liked, so he leaves and blames the ‘IT cartel’ for his shortcomings. There are multiple impediments to moving government to the cloud and contractors play a role in that, but they are certainly not the root cause.”

Posted on Sep 02, 2011 at 12:18 PM21 comments