Feds roiled by workforce changes

Mary Lacey had a successful career managing complex technical design projects for the military. Now she is in charge of redesigning the Defense Department’s civilian personnel system, a job that makes rocket science look easy, she says jokingly.

The redesigned personnel system gives DOD civilian managers more flexibility to hire the kinds of employees they need and pay them salaries that will keep them from leaving, Lacey told an audience of federal human resource managers at the 2006 Office of Personnel Management Workforce Conference in Baltimore earlier this month. Hiring managers probably won’t get bigger personnel budgets, she added, but they will have a bigger say in how they spend their budgets.

Under the government’s civilian personnel system, known as the General Schedule, the distribution of pay leaves little room for managers’ discretion, said Lacey, who serves as the program executive officer for the National Security Personnel System.

Some managers might prefer to have a highly paid workforce with fewer employees, she said, and under the new personnel system that DOD is establishing, managers have that choice.

“It becomes a conscious decision that managers have to make, as opposed to where we are today where 85 percent of payroll costs are on cruise control,” she said.

Sessions on federal government pay and systems for evaluating employee performance drew large audiences at the Baltimore conference. Federal HR experts talked about governmentwide personnel system reforms, but they said most agencies would need to develop effective ways to evaluate employees’ job performance before the entire federal government could switch to a pay system based on performance evaluations.

Robert Shea, counselor to the deputy director for management at the Office of Management and Budget, said the General Schedule pay system used to compensate information technology professionals and other federal white-collar employees is outmoded. No modern business gives automatic annual pay increases, he said. “We ought to work collaboratively to fix what is now broken, which is a system that provides across-the-board pay raises to everyone regardless of their performance.”

In 2005, Bush administration officials drafted such a proposal and named it the Working for America Act.

But lawmakers and their staffs, who would have to rewrite current law to change how federal employees are paid, are being cautious. “Getting money from Congress for something like this is probably easier than the cultural change that has to take place in the federal workforce for employees to buy into the whole system,” said Andrew Richardson, staff director of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee’s Oversight of Government Management, Restructuring and the District of Columbia Subcommittee. Federal employees are accustomed to the General Schedule, and most of them don’t want managers to have a greater say in their pay increases, he said.

The Bush administration has made workforce issues a priority. But many agencies are still struggling to create performance management systems that OPM will certify as meeting its standards. It is not easy, said Jeff Reisinger, associate executive director of human resources at the Securities and Exchange Commission.

A modern performance management system performs at least three functions, Reisinger said. It functions as an employee disciplinary system, as a rating system for determining employee pay increases and bonuses, and as a system for developing employee skills and other work capabilities. “The complexities associated with getting all that into a [single] system are challenging,” Reisinger said.

Most HR experts agree that how federal agencies create and introduce new performance management systems will largely determine whether employees and managers accept them. They often cite the Labor Department’s success in creating a new performance management system for its 17,000 employees. The key ingredients of that system are fairness, simplicity and rewards, said Patrick Pizzella, the department’s assistant secretary of administration and management.

Pizzella, a political appointee, said he involved career staff and program managers in developing Labor’s new performance management system. “It needed to be apparent to everyone that there was fairness in the system,” he said.

“The system had to be clear and simple,” Pizzella said. “Complicated systems in large organizations eventually fail. Complex, large organizations cannot be efficiently managed by Rube Goldberg devices. Lastly, employees have to feel there are real rewards for participating in a new system and playing by a new set of rules.”

To encourage acceptance of the new performance management system, Labor Secretary Elaine Chao increased the amount of money in the pay pool for Senior Executive Service employees several times, Pizzella said. Chao also increased the pay pool for General Schedule employees for the first time since 1984. “We’re putting what little money we have into the system so that managers and agency heads can reward their employees,” Pizzella said.

After establishing that system, Labor began getting green scores for workforce management on every quarterly score card from OMB, which rates federal agencies on achieving the objectives of the President’s Management Agenda. “We kept using that as a carrot with our employees: ‘This is your chance to participate in a presidential initiative,’ ” Pizzella said.

Many agencies, however, are still struggling with the challenges of writing meaningful performance objectives and training managers to use those objectives in offering employees constructive feedback. “Try talking to someone in their 30s, 40s or 50s about how to improve their critical thinking,” said J. Christopher Mihm, managing director of strategic issues at the Government Accountability Office. “It requires sensitivity and insight and intelligence, or you’re going to get some very [negative] feedback: ‘Well, thank you. I’ve managed to survive this long without being told that.’”

Mihm added that most federal managers need training and practice before they can give that kind of feedback to employees. “That is a real skill, and it’s not one that comes naturally or easily. It takes an awful lot of time and an awful lot of practice,”

he said.

HR experts say that workforce demographics add urgency to the personnel changes at DOD and the Homeland Security Department. During a period of national security concerns, DOD and DHS gained congressional authority to replace traditional federal pay systems and labor-management rules with new personnel systems that give managers greater control over employees and employee pay. Now, with a shrinking pool of potential new hires, all federal agencies face a highly competitive hiring environment in the next decade, Shea said. “We want a system that attracts and retains and rewards the best people,” he added.

No one knows whether lawmakers will pass legislation to replace the current General Schedule and Federal Wage System governmentwide. But federal HR experts who gathered in Baltimore to consider that possibility cautioned against moving too quickly on changes affecting employee and manager pay.

“You have to be very sensitive to the time that it takes to communicate the reason for any kind of change,” Reisinger said. “I don’t think you can overcommunicate why you are doing it, or what you are doing.”

New federal personnel systems look alikeThe Defense Department’s National Security Personnel System and the Homeland Security Department’s MaxHR are alike in five of their basic components. And they are similar in another way: A federal district court has separately blocked DOD and DHS from implementing their new labor-management provisions. DHS has appealed its injunction, and DOD is weighing its options.

Here are the five components common to both systems:

  • New performance management criteria for evaluating employees and managers.

  • Broad pay bands in lieu of traditional pay grades and steps within grades.

  • Variable rather than automatic pay increases.

  • Expanded rights for managers.

  • Curtailed appeals procedures for employees to protest disciplinary actions.

    — Florence Olsen

  • NEXT STORY: Lockheed gets Sentinel contract

    X
    This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
    Accept Cookies
    X
    Cookie Preferences Cookie List

    Do Not Sell My Personal Information

    When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

    Allow All Cookies

    Manage Consent Preferences

    Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

    We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

    Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

    Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

    If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

    Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

    Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

    If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

    Save Settings
    Cookie Preferences Cookie List

    Cookie List

    A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

    Strictly Necessary Cookies

    We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

    Functional Cookies

    We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

    Performance Cookies

    We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

    Sale of Personal Data

    We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

    Social Media Cookies

    We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

    Targeting Cookies

    We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.