New performance management system to affect more than 600,000 U.S. civil servants

By on 12/04/2016
Ms. Paige Hinkle-Bowles, a member of the Senior Executive Service, is the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Civilian Personnel Policy in the USA

More than 600,000 civil servants at the U.S. defence department are to undergo a new performance management system dividing officials into three tiers: ‘outstanding’, ‘fully successful’ and ‘unacceptable’.

The new ‘Defense Performance Management and Appraisal Program’, expected to be fully implemented by October 2018, will link bonuses and “other performance-based actions” to employee performance, Paige Hinkle-Bowles, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for civilian personnel policy, said.

The programme “isn’t about sitting down on the 365th day and giving feedback,” she said, but instead calls for “continuous feedback.”

Supervisors must have at least three documented discussions with each employee during the rating year.

The programme will be rolled out to 14,500 civil servants at about a dozen relatively small components and headquarters functions, but over the next two years, more than 600,000 employees in the Defense Department civilian workforce will have their performance rated under the new system.

Civil service unions have been an important part of the reform, Hinkle-Bowles said.

The new system is part of a broader initiative called New Beginnings, which replaces the National Security Personnel System (NSPS), a pay-for-performance system installed by the George W. Bush administration.

NSPS carved out a separate set of policies for the Department of Defense (DoD), particularly by more strongly emphasising performance in pay, advancement and retention, and by giving management more leeway in taking discipline.

The programme faced strong opposition from unions and civil servants who brought legal challenges to the government claiming it was inconsistently applied and causes undeserved pay inequalities.

An analysis by the Federal Times newspaper found that the January 2008 issuance of performance-based pay raises and bonuses, the first large-scale payout under the system, was filled with inequalities: it concluded that white employees received higher average performance ratings, salary increases and bonuses than employees of other races and ethnicities and that employees working at DoD agencies earned higher performance ratings and payouts overall than did their civilian counterparts in the three military service branches: United States Army, United States Navy, and United States Air Force.

Unions pushed for the system’s abolition and in late 2009, president Barack Obama signed legislation repealing NSPS and restoring DoD employees to their previous pay systems by 2012.

“NSPS was so discriminatory and harmful to the workforce that it was repealed by Congress less than two years after taking effect,” Cox said.

With the DoD being the largest single employer of federal officials, including around 750,000 of the 2.1m (apart from the self-funding U.S. Postal Service), changes to personnel policies there can set precedent for expansion to the rest of the civil service.

Federal employee performance ratings are used in decisions on promotions, financial awards, advancement up the steps of the pay ladder, and discipline, including reassignment, demotion and firing.

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About Winnie Agbonlahor

Winnie is news editor of Global Government Forum. She previously reported for Civil Service World - the trade magazine for senior UK government officials. Originally from Germany, Winnie first came to the UK in 2006 to study a BA in Journalism & Russian at the University of Sheffield. She is bilingual in English and German, and, after spending an academic year abroad in Russia and reporting for the Moscow Times, Winnie also speaks Russian fluently.

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