OPM says managers are too timid

Friday - 4/1/2011, 7:05pm EDT

John Buckner
Federal News Radio

The Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry said federal managers are too timid in the workplace and must do more to promote high performance from employees.

"Quite frankly, if someone is not doing the job, we ought to fire them," said Berry during a House Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government hearing Friday. "We ought to give them a chance to correct, and obviously if we are not giving them the right tools or training, we ought to do that. But, if after all of that, they're still not doing their job, get rid of them."

Subcommittee Chairwoman Rep. Jo Ann Emerson (R-Mo.) asked Berry if federal pay and promotions were correlated with performance. Berry said the General Schedules' within-grade system, the base for employee pay raises, has performance elements but was not designed to be performance based.

Berry added the within-grade system is more of a career trajectory and does not provide incentives to receive the pay raises.

Along with performance pay, Berry said agencies should streamline the hiring process as well as decision-making by federal managers.

Berry added one problem is a law prevents agencies from sharing resumes of potential employees. This causes employees to have to start process over again if they are not selected for a job in a specific department.

"To alleviate that, what we have done to make it easier, is within that department, if they are hiring other accountants, you don't have to start over," said Berry. "They can interview and hire from the well qualified pool of candidates anywhere [in the agency]."

Along the lines of hiring, Berry said that OPM is on schedule and on budget with updating USAJobs.com and expects it to be fully launched next fall.

While hiring, performance and pay issues were a major part of the subcommittee's discussion, diversity in the workplace also was a concern.

Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) asked Berry if OPM is focusing on diversity under the President's directive to hire the best and the brightest into the workforce.

Berry said OPM Deputy Director Christine Griffin is heading many workgroups that focus on bringing minorities into the workforce. "The number of minorities in the federal workforce increased by five percent in 2010, or essentially 31,000 more employees," said Berry. "Minorities constituted 33.8 percent of the workforce [last year]."

Berry said Congress can help OPM by continuing to fund OPM's Department of Diversity and Inclusion. OPM's 2012 budget is asking for $1 million to cover those efforts.

Overall, OPM's budget request for fiscal year 2012 is seven percent more than it was in 2010. OPM is requesting $12 million to add 26 new employees to the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program (FEHBP). The new workers would work to handle the multi-state insurance exchanges under 2009's Affordable Care Act.

An additional $1 million will cover their employee viewpoint survey, which now will be conducted annually instead of every two years. OPM also has taken steps to reduce its budget. In his written statement, Berry said that OPM has decided to terminate funding for the retirement systems modernization program (RSM).

Berry also wrote in his testimony that the second phase of the consolidated business information system (CBIS) is on indefinite hold after OPM found critical issues during its deployment in 2010. OPM estimates this will save the agency $41 million over the life of the project.

However, the creation of programs, rather than cutting them, could be beneficial to reducing the deficit in the long run.

Rep. Steve Womack (R-Ark.) referred to the long term financial benefits of wellness programs for workers.

"This will have a huge impact in early cancer diagnosis, earlier treatments, healthier employees and it's going to translate into direct savings for FEHBP," Berry said.

OPM already has implemented a wellness program within their agency, the Department of Interior and the General Services Administration.

John Buckner is an intern with Federal News Radio.

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