What do performance ratings really measure?

Friday - 4/20/2012, 2:00am EDT

While it may come as a shock to some people, a significant number of federal workers in dozens of agencies say the performance-rating systems where they work measure just about everything but performance itself.

Since the pay freeze, the only way federal workers can get ahead financially is to qualify for a time-in-grade step increase, get a promotion, or get a cash performance award.

Or find another job.

For people who like where they work, what they do and the people they do it with, leaving is not the option of choice. And because paycheck-related items, like health insurance premiums, are not frozen, some employees are taking home less than they were two years ago. Which makes performance awards look all the better, except that...

Whatever the reason — to meet unofficial quotas, reward diversity, punish foes, reward friends, or save money — many feds say the performance rating system at their agency, or as practiced by their top management, has little to do with how well or poorly people are doing their jobs.

A former Air Force employee said that while he was under the ill-fated National Security Personnel System, they didn't have official quotas, BUT "after I rated my folks, they would all be submitted to the 'pay pol'...who reviewed everything. They would then return the evaluations to us and ask us to downgrade our ratings..." to save money!

An IRS worker said that in his part of the agency "quantity over quality" is the unofficial guide. He said the number of cases closed, not the quality of the case work itself, is the standard by which workers are judged.

Another worker said that times have definitely changed. During the 1980s, he said, "It wasn't so much about quotas but giving low evaluations to make it harder to leave" government service. The thinking, he said, was giving a good employee a poor to mediocre rating would make him/her an untouchable to another agency.

But another said that has definitely changed, at least in his workplace. This fed, with nearly four decades in government, said his bosses were told to give him a Met Expectations (i.e., the lowest of three satisfactory ratings). His boss's reasoning, he said, was that he could then give a higher performance rating to "someone who might otherwise leave the agency." He said he didn't fault his boss, a "stand up guy," but did blame higher-ups for the way the system works.


NEARLY USELESS FACTOID

By Gillian Brockell

No sitting U.S. president has worn facial hair since William Howard Taft, but whiskers were once a necessity for any rising statesman. Abraham Lincoln started his presidency clean shaven and gangly but grew out his legendary beard at the suggestion of a young girl. After he led the nation through its darkest hour, facial hair became de rigueur. So why don't Obama or Mitt Romney throw out their razors today? According to experts speaking to Slate Magazine, politicians these days need to present themselves as reformers more than old-fashioned and traditional. Not too much of a reformer, though — since the 1960s, beards have also been negatively associated with hippies and communists.


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