Energy innovation; Replacing pass/fail; VOIP isn’t always easy; Addressing employee concerns

Energy innovation
Regarding Federal Computer Week’s story, “The next bright idea,” in the May 1 issue, the author of the article on the United States losing the innovation development race quotes James Decker, who said he can think of nothing that would capture the imagination of the American public the way that the space race did. I contend that the issue of becoming energy independent could. In the 1970s, when President Jimmy Carter challenged the American people to conserve and develop alternative energy solutions, we responded. Conservation, sustainability and alternative energy solutions have captured the public interest, especially with the current rise in gasoline prices, the war in the Middle East and our dwindling oil supplies.

This kind of race can be fought by university students and small and large businesses. I think small businesses and universities may have an edge because they are not economically dependent on current technology.

Jannette Wesley
National Park Service

Replacing pass/fail
Regarding Federal Computer Week’s story, “No more pass/fail,” in the April 24 issue, I read with interest about the Labor Department’s new employee evaluation system. It all sounded great until I got to these two lines.

“Labor officials next decided to evaluate employees using a five-level system: exemplary, highly effective, effective, satisfactory and minimally satisfactory. They eliminated the idea of a pass/fail system, opting for one that [Patrick] Pizzella said would give managers some discretion and facilitate flexibility.”

I then realized that the new system replaced the pass portion of pass/fail with five levels of passing grades and the fail portion with…nothing. It is now, apparently, impossible for employees to be given anything less than a passing grade. Minimally satisfactory means they meet the minimum criteria established for their position, or in other words, they are doing good enough.

Under this new employee evaluation system, how do you document substandard performance? Also, if all employees are by definition at least good enough, how do you fire an incompetent employee?

As a military and civilian employee of the Defense Department for the past 30 years, I know how hard it is to discipline — much less fire — an incompetent employee. It seems to me, under Labor’s new system, it will be impossible.

Thomas Young
Pensacola, Fla.

VOIP isn’t always easy
Regarding the April 14 FCW.com story, “NASA’s new VOIP system crashes,” new technology comes with risks.

Voice-over-IP systems still fall into that category. Most new installations tend to be unstable, and service failures do occur. I’m surprised NASA officials and its headquarters workers seemed so surprised by the outage.

As a support contractor to the Defense Information Systems Agency under the Defense Information Systems Network Global Services contract, I experienced firsthand the benefits and pitfalls of a large VOIP system when DISA moved into its leading-edge Eagle technical facility in Northern Virginia in 2001.

Outages of the Cisco Systems VOIP system were a weekly occurrence and preceded failure of the local-area network in that segment of the building. Workers were without telephone service and couldn’t access servers that validated user IDs or centralized Microsoft Office applications, including e-mail.

During a four- or five-month period, capacity enhancements and configuration changes resulted in a much more robust, more traditional PBX-like experience.

Bottom line: Don’t approach a VOIP installation without adequate resources, planning and staff awareness.

Ben Chiswell
Assistant Vice President
Science Applications International Corp.
DISN Global Services Task Order Manager

Addressing employee concerns
Regarding the March 27 Federal Computer Week story, “USGS lifts suspension on A-76 jobs competition,” the piece quotes Barbara Wainman, director of the U.S. Geological Service’s Office of Communications and Outreach, who said the agency has taken many steps to address employees’ concerns.

This is a bit of a stretch. Other than the résumé and interview class that has been presented at Rolla, Mo., the USGS headquarters has not done anything. Good grief, it took six months for the personnel office from Denver — the personnel office in Rolla was closed years ago — to make a personal visit. Before that, they would respond to our questions with a reply that it would take four weeks to get an answer.

This is not reducing or eliminating tax expenditures. This is simply redirecting the salary dollars to contractors. It is a cheap Republican shell game to “make government smaller” while at the same time sending the miniscule tax/salary dollars to corporate contractors. Tax savings? Zero.

Name withheld by request
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