Survey: Senior execs 'cynical' about pay for performance

Pay For Performance Survey Results Report

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Federal executives are unhappy with how their pay-for-performance systems work, the Senior Executives Association (SEA) found in a survey released today.

SEA and Avue Technologies conducted the survey in May.

The survey found that although senior executives support performance management and accountability, they said ratings, pay adjustments and bonuses were disconnected. Respondents also said a lack of money for employees rated as outstanding has created de facto quotas for pay bonuses.

“There aren't enough funds in our agency to adequately compensate pay for performance under this system,” said a survey respondent from the Department of Health and Human Services. “We are building expectations, which under current budgets, we cannot meet.”

Some agency executives said the artificial quotas made performance ratings meaningless.

“This year, my supervisor directed me to lower the rating of [a Senior Executive Service] subordinate for whom I had proposed an outstanding rating, and to lower the rating on any element I chose for him because it just wasn't his 'turn' to get an outstanding,” an Agriculture Department executive said. “Needless to say, I am very cynical about it all.”

Another big problem was a lack of communication and transparency about the system, the survey found. This has caused poor morale among SES members.

“The intent of the legislation establishing this new SES pay-and-performance management system was laudable,” SEA President Carol Bonosaro said. “Yet the survey results demonstrate that something has been lost in translation as the system has been implemented.”

The SES pay-for-performance system was implemented in January 2004. The Office of Management and Budget has touted it as the possible model for governmentwide pay for performance.

Colleen Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, has long opposed pay for performance and quickly responded to the survey results.

“This is just further evidence that there remain significant issues with pay for performance that must be addressed by the federal government prior to implementation of any such system governmentwide,” she said.

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