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FCW Forum: What's your problem with NSPS?

During the last two months, FCW has received more than two dozen letters in response to articles about the National Security Personnel System. In many cases, readers were less interested in discussing the particulars article than in having an opportunity to discuss the flaws and pitfalls of NSPS and its application by federal managers.

Some concerns are strictly financial: Readers moving from the General Schedule pay system to NSPS say they are losing money in the process, either now, in the form of bonuses, or later, in retirement pay.

Other concerns are more conceptual: Performance-based pay makes more sense in the private sector, where managers do not have a limited pool of funding for raises and bonuses, several readers pointed out.

And, as always is the case when it comes to performance evaluations, some readers doubt the ability of their supervisors to manage them effectively and fairly.

Here are excerpts from some of the letters we received (with links to the full text). Let us know what you think by posting a comment (registration required) or by e-mailing your comment to [email protected] and we will post it for you.

Lost in transition

Those of us who are in the lower [General Schedule] grades, who have reached step 10, receive nothing other than the locality pay at the beginning of the year. Gas and everything else has 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?  Read the letter.

A long-term loss

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 by as little as 15 percent to as much as 30 percent.  Read the letter.

A zero-sum game

If anyone thought that the new pay-for-performance system was designed to give any more [money] to any one, I'd like to talk to them about a bridge in Arizona!  It defies reason to assume that the same group of managers that 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.  Read the letter.

Lessons learned (or not)

USDA 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 COLAs 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?  Read the letter.

What about the alternatives?

I was a Defense Department employee in a pay-for-performance system that included former General Schedule and Wage Grade employees. With very little revision, that system might have met the wider DOD needs, but nobody bothered to take a look.  Read the letter.

The elusiveness of objectivity

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. This process can be destructive to management and worker relationships, and diminish the collaborative environment that we should be working toward in the information society.  Read the letter.

Asking for trouble

We've moved from a system with a two-page evaluation form and an unconstrained employee self-assessment input to a 13-page evaluation form and employee input constrained to about 800 words.

[Also], NSPS is constrained by funds available to award for performance, just like the demonstration projects of previous years. This forces supervisors to fit the actual performance and adjective grades of their employees into a "normal distribution model" to not give "too many" high marks. Once again, the system puts the supervisor and employee in an unresolvable conflict.  Read the letter.

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.  Read the letter.

Integrity needed

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.  Read the letter.

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. It's not that the new system becomes more successful. There are just fewer employees knowledgeable enough to complain.  Read the letter.

And finally. . .

Why the whining?

Given the reports earlier this month that average pay increase for employees under the 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.  Read the letter.



Posted by John Stein Monroe on Feb 21, 2008 at 12:12 PM


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