OPM director discourages move to pay for performance at hearing

Other witnesses claim feds are overpaid

One serious hurdle to bringing a large-scale pay-for-performance system to the government is evaluating employee performance, Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry told lawmakers today.

Berry, one of several witnesses who testified at a House Oversight and Government Reform federal workforce subcommittee hearing, said the Chief Human Capital Officers Council has created a working group to improve the federal government’s method for evaluating employee performance. Understanding and measuring performance is a crucial component of rewarding performance, he said.

Berry said two senior executives chair the group in order to keep politics out the discussion. Once the working group deliberates on performance, then “we can have a discussion about pay,” Berry said.

Related coverage:

Pay-for-performance effort begins

Pay-for-performance back on the table

Rep. Dennis Ross, (R-Fla.), convened the hearing, which he titled,"Are Federal Workers Underpaid?" While Ross has said he wants to implement pay for performance in the government, Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.), the ranking member of subcommittee, was the first to broach the issue, by mentioning the Defense Department’s failed National Security Personnel System.

Berry noted that Congress repealed NSPS and said that, in his two years as the head of OPM, he has tried to learn from that experience. As a result, he said he thinks the government’s performance evaluations should be based on aligning organizational mission and goals to individual performance, as well as managers and employees having regular conversations about whether they are off- or on-track to meet their goals.

At the hearing, Ross cited figures that put the average salary for federal employees in 2010 at $74,311, while the average private sector worked earned $50,462.

“Current federal salaries and benefits are not in line with the marketplace when compared to private workforce compensation,” Ross said in his opening statement.

However, Berry disputed the Republican congressman’s numbers, saying that they don’t compare like jobs to like jobs. Private sector jobs include retail and service-oriented positions which the government doesn't have. In studies that compare federal employees to private-sector workers in very similar jobs, the federal employees earn significantly less.

However, other witnesses representing conservative think-tanks disputed Berry's view. James Sherk, senior labor policy analyst for the Heritage Foundation, said the General Schedule system rewards longevity, not performance. And a generous benefits package adds to the total compensation of feds without being obvious in their salaries, he said.

Ross and Rep. Darrell Issa, (R-Calif.), chairman of the full committee, used the hearing to argue that the president’s two-year pay freeze for federal employees is not really a freeze because it does not affect workers’ step or within-grade increases.

Issa, who unsuccessfully tried to attach an amendment to freeze within-grade increases to the House’s continuing resolution bill, asked Berry if he would support a freeze on such increases. Berry said halting within-grade increases would greatly hurt employee retention.

Colleen Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union and a witness, noted that the government’s attempts to use alternative pay systems have failed to help agencies recruit and retain high-quality employees.

“I don’t know of a single so-called pay-for-performance system that is showing progress on either of those goals,” Kelley said in her testimony. 

Max Stier, president and CEO of the Partnership for Public Service who also testified on the panel, agreed that there is not an existing pay-for-performance model in the government that works. Echoing Berry’s earlier comments, Stier said the government should “get a handle on what the performance is and reward it accordingly.”

About the Author

Alyah Khan is a staff writer covering IT policy.

Rising Stars

Meet 21 early-career leaders who are doing great things in federal IT.


Reader comments

Fri, Apr 29, 2011 Dottie Griffith Natick, MA

I have been struggle to apply over 35 position for GS 7,9 and 11. I had only one interview. They did not select me because I am Deaf, have been work for Federal Government for almost 30 years. I worked very hard to get my degree Information Management System during single Mom of two boys ( six years ). I really wanted to meeting with President Obama and John Berry Director OPM to change for a better provide for the Deaf / Hard of Hearing Federal Employees.

Mon, Apr 11, 2011

Should a third organization be added to these comparisons? Say Congress? If you compare their minimum salaries (not even including the much more generous benefits) they are pretty far above the average American worker as well. Federal or civilian. And as for performance ......

Tue, Apr 5, 2011

A pay for performance system would be impossible to fairly implement because one could not be designed that would in fact accurately and fairly assign equitable performance standards for the average worker based on each specific case a worker handles because each specific case is different and the variables are too many to account for. There are many other areas in the budget that can be cut that do not produce anything for the taxpayer. Workers produce a product or a service for the taxpayer so why cut a workers pay or base it on a pay for performance system that cannot possibly be made that would be fair and equitable as discussed above. Cut the spending on entitlements programs and projects that do not give a service or product back to the tax payer. This does not mean cutting anyones social security benefits because the person should get the money back her or she put in. If pay has to be reduced one time, based on a truly fair assessment, so be it, but it makes no sense to take away money from a worker who is productive and send it off to an entitlement program or project that nets nothing for the taxpayer.

Fri, Mar 11, 2011 James Dobbins Virginia

Pay for individual performance is what we should be striving toward. The only way it makes sense is to have a reasonable and meaningful way to define what performance consists of and ways to objectively measure it. To do that you need clear and concise job descriptions. So, start the chain. Do things in order, and always keep the end goal of fairness in mind. We should never have people whose performance is sloppy and who contribution is minimal or nothing taking up space because they are part of a "collective" whose common salary is determined on the basis of everything but performance.

Fri, Mar 11, 2011 Washington, DC

The average private industry worker does not have a college degree, works in dead end jobs with no career ladder, does not have access to their company's stock options does not spend many days away from family, does not work for a fortune 100, 500, or 1,000 company, and is not responsible for the health safety and well being of the nation; The Average government employee makes less than their civilian counter part in comparable jobs; The average government employee is responsible for millions of dollars of taxpayer money; The bottom line for private companies is how much revenue they generate, the average government agency bottom line is how much of the taxpayer money they save and returns to the OMB at end of the Fiscal Year; The average Federal Worker can be stationed anywhere on the planet and be away from their family for untold periods of time, and may be killed because they represent the United States of America; The average private industry employee is not on the front line of terrorism domestic or otherwise; The Average federal government employee is always on the front line of terrorism, domestic and otherwise. REMEMBER THE MURA FEDERAL BUILDING IN OKLAHOMA, DESTROYED BY A WHITE AMERICAN WITH A GRIEVANCE, 150+ KILLED. IN LANGLEY VA, A SHOOTER WITH AN AK-47 GUNS DOWN FEDERAL WORKERS ON THEIR WAY TO WORK. AND RECENTLY TWO IRS WORKERS WERE KILLED BY ANOTHER PERSON WHO CRASHED HIS AIRPLANE INTO THEIR OFFICES IN TEXAS. The average private industry worker gets paid overtime, time and a half for more than 40 hours a week; The average Federal Worker does not get overtime, they get "Credit Hours" for overtime work; So do not say that Federal Government Employees do not work for their pay. Who shows up after major disasters, Federal Employees who have to leave their families because people build next to rivers. Who shows up after tornado's, Federal Employees to render services and has to leave their family's to do so. Who shows up after hurricanes, Federal Employees to aid in the disaster recovery and aid those citizens affected. Who shows up after earthquakes, Federal Employees to render assistance. Who DECLARES "STATES OF EMERGENCY" and files for Federal Disaster Assistance, EVERYONE WHO WANTS THE GOVERNMENT TO bail them out and most wants the Federal Government to "CUTBACK ON SPENDING". Should the government render assistance to those who build in flood plains, on shorelines, and in fire prone areas? Maybe the Government should cut back on Disaster Aid??? Now that would save money..... As they say in sports broadcasts, "CMON MAN"...

Show All Comments

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Please type the letters/numbers you see above

More from 1105 Public Sector Media Group