Letters: The problem with NSPS

Nearly two years after its launch, the National Security Personnel System continues to inspire fear, loathing and letters to the editor.

In the past two months, Federal Computer Week has received more than 20 letters in response to stories about NSPS. Generally, readers were less interested in discussing the particular articles than in having an opportunity to share their concerns and experiences with NSPS.

As you can see in the excerpts below, some readers are worried about losing money — either now because of smaller raises or later in retirement pay based on those lower salaries. Other readers are concerned about the daily workings of the system and say their managers are ill-equipped to conduct fair and accurate performance evaluations.

Lost in transition
Those of us who are in the lower [General Schedule] grades [and] who have reached Step 10 receive nothing other than the locality pay at the beginning of the year.

Gas and everything else have gone sky high. I used to look forward to the third year for my step increase. And now whenever we transition, it sounds like we will receive nothing for going in the NSPS system. Where is the fairness in that? Retirement ramifications In light of the military receiving a 3.5 percent pay raise this year, it means that I am making a little more now, but that my retirement was diminished this year alone by 1 percent.

If you carry this trend out to the logical conclusion, in the next 15 years, the government could reduce my retirement [pay] by as little as 15 percent to as much as 30 percent.

Asking for trouble
The absence of objective measurements of success — sales, revenues, profits — means that pay for performance is an individual and personal assessment between the boss and subordinate. That process can be destructive to management and worker relationships and diminish the collaborative environment that we should be working toward in the information society.

Unresolvable conflict
NSPS is constrained by the funds available to reward performance, just like the demonstration projects of previous years.

That forces supervisors to fit the actual performance and objective grades of their employees into a “normal distribution model” [and discourages them from giving] “too many” high marks. Once again, the system puts the supervisor and employee in an unresolvable conflict.

Lessons learned — or not
The Agriculture Department tried the performance pay system in the 1980s; it was called the General Merit system.

It failed because additional funding was not provided for true merit raises. They took money from the [cost-of-living allowances] and step-increase money due to employees and used it to reward the “highest performing” employees.

When managers with outstanding ratings only received a $300 to $400 “merit raise,’” the system started to die and was eventually canceled. Do we not learn from history? A point of departure What the Office of Personnel Management says: It takes about five years for a pay-for-performance system to be accepted by employees.

What OPM means: It takes about five years for the career employees who know the system is unsuccessful to retire and stop exercising their right to a fair system.

Who evaluates whom?
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.… The employee’s livelihood is at stake, and the ability to be rewarded based on performance is supposed to drive motivation Top officials, please perform an independent audit and get the right facts. People in control of NSPS should ensure that the integrity of the civil service system remains viable.

A zero-sum game
If anyone thought that the new pay-for-performance system was designed to give any more [money] to anyone, I’d like to talk to him or her about a bridge in Arizona! It defies reason to assume that the same managers who weren’t able to effectively execute the old [General Schedule] system could effectively manage the new system.

Without more funds, the new system is a zero-sum game. If one person gets more, someone else gets less. Just another beauty contest.

A loss of protection
Pay for performance eliminates protection from negative personnel actions by managers who can harass and fire employees who don’t cooperate when asked to overlook policy violations. This is one of the most basic reasons government employees are needed.

Why the whining?
Given the reports earlier this month that the average pay increase for employees under NSPS was in excess of 7 percent, I find it hard to understand the wailing, moaning and gnashing of teeth from government employees and their union representatives on this issue.


  • FCW Perspectives
    remote workers (elenabsl/Shutterstock.com)

    Post-pandemic IT leadership

    The rush to maximum telework did more than showcase the importance of IT -- it also forced them to rethink their own operations.

  • Management
    shutterstock image By enzozo; photo ID: 319763930

    Where does the TMF Board go from here?

    With a $1 billion cash infusion, relaxed repayment guidelines and a surge in proposals from federal agencies, questions have been raised about whether the board overseeing the Technology Modernization Fund has been scaled to cope with its newfound popularity.

Stay Connected