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Pentagon's Pay-for-Performance Program Facing Fresh Round of Scrutiny

Pentagon's Pay-for-Performance Program Facing Fresh Round of Scrutiny

What does Uncle Sam do when he's thrown a hot potato?

By Joe Davidson | Federal Diary, Washington Post

What does Uncle Sam do when he’s thrown a hot potato?

He appoints a committee to decide if he should eat it, throw it away or find some other half measure to please diverse constituencies.

The latest example of this is the announcement by the Defense Department and the Office of Personnel Management that they will form a “task group” to review the Pentagon’s much-maligned pay-for-performance operation, also known as the National Security Personnel System.

On another front, Dennis C. Blair, director of national intelligence, and James R. Clapper, undersecretary of defense for intelligence, have urged the Obama administration to push ahead with pay-for-performance programs for intelligence agency employees, despite congressional urgings to suspend them. More on that later.

The task group was formed by Deputy Defense Secretary William J. Lynn 3d and Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry. It will function as part of the Defense Business Board, an advisory panel on effective Pentagon management.

The group’s recommendations could have a significant impact beyond the Pentagon. NSPS is the signature stamp of the Bush administration on the federal workforce. If it goes under, other government pay-for-performance systems could be endangered.

Lynn and Berry requested the formation of the group “due to recent concerns raised by Congress and the U.S. Government Accountability Office regarding NSPS,” says a memo from Lynn to the Business Board.

“Concerns” is a neutral word for what, in reality, were pretty strong criticisms from Congress and the GAO. And those criticisms were muted compared with the stinging rebukes from federal union leaders and many employees under NSPS.

Some of the congressional concerns were outlined in an April 3 letter to Office of Management and Budget Director Peter Orszag from eight House committee and subcommittee chairmen. They told him that GAO "found that employees do not trust these systems to compensate them fairly.

“Many fear that the government has adopted these systems in an attempt to curtail the long-term growth of personnel costs,” the letter said. “Employees have complained about discriminatory pay practices in Federal organizations that have moved to these types of systems. The discretion given to managers to set performance metrics and to pay employees accordingly means these systems lack transparency and accountability, and could pose a disparate impact on minorities.”

Just yesterday, GAO said the Pentagon “did not have the necessary infrastructure in place” when it implemented NSPS.

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