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DoD workers will see ‘New Beginnings’ with performance reviews

Hundreds of thousands of Defense Department civilian employees will see a change to the way their performance is appraised by their supervisors beginning in April.

For the past three years, DoD has been working on its New Beginnings initiative, which will require more frequent reviews between supervisors and employees and a linkage between performance and rewards such as bonuses and promotions.

Paige Hinkle-Bowles, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense (Civilian Personnel Policy)
Paige Hinkle-Bowles, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense (Civilian Personnel Policy)

The new system will also create a three-tiered employee rating system to assess employee performance.

“One of the changes we are really trying to advocate through this system would be that we have communication throughout the ratings cycle and that the employees receive recognition and acknowledgement of their performance and their contribution to the nation throughout the ratings cycle and then there is nothing that comes as a surprise on the 365th day,” said Paige Hinkle-Bowles, deputy assistant secretary of Defense for Civilian Personnel Policy, in an exclusive March 25 interview with Federal News Radio.

The new Defense Performance Management and Appraisal Program will start in a phased approach. A cross-section of civilians working for the services and the defense agencies will be the first to transition to the system. The whole department will eventually be transitioned over the coming years, Hinkle-Bowles said.

The new system requires supervisors to hold a minimum of three formal documented performance discussions with an employee per year.

“It focuses on improving overall performance management through continuous engagement between supervisors and employees. It allows us to link organizational missions and goals to individual performance of the employees by providing regular feedback during the appraisal cycle,” Hinkle-Bowles said.

Certain elements of employees’ work will be rated outstanding, fully successful or unacceptable. The criterion for outstanding work includes exceptional results, exceeding high metrics, acting as an expert and role model and handling roadblocks well. On the other hand, unacceptable work is defined as being unreliable, making poor decisions, failing to use skills required for the job and requiring more supervision than expected.

The new system ties promotions, within-pay grade increases (WGI) and quality step increases (QSI) to the performance reviews.

To receive a WGI, an employee must be performing at fully successful or higher. QSIs will be used in cases where exceptional performance has extended over a long period of time and is expected to continue in the future. QSI recipients must currently be paid below step 10 of his grade, have a most recent rating of outstanding and not received a QSI within the last year.

The incentive system “fosters a high-performance culture by ensuring supervisors make meaningful distinctions in performance,” Hinkle-Bowles said. “Those formal ratings will be used for all types of personnel based decisions.”

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Those decisions include awards and developmental opportunities as well.

The new system advocated addressing performance issues early by communicating standards to employees and offering assistance.

Unacceptable performance can lead to reassignment, reduction in pay or removal. Supervisors are required to provide a notice of performance deficiencies. They must identify problems in writing and give the employee 30 to 90 days to improve. If the employee fails disciplinary action will take place.

The system overhaul stems from requirements in the 2010 and 2012 defense authorization acts. The laws asked for a system that redesigns “procedures for use within DoD to make appointments to positions within the competitive service in a way that supports the mission, managers and applicants.”

The law also allows the department to establish a DoD Civilian Workforce Incentive Fund to monetarily spur on employees based on team or individual performance and to attract and retain employees with certain qualifications or abilities. DoD later chose not to create the fund.

DoD has been particularly worried about its ability to recruit and retain top talent as private industry is becoming more attractive to workers.

Defense Secretary Ash Carter set up the Force of the Future initiative to make DoD a more progressive employer. The program added more maternity leave and programs to attract private sector employees.

But, some lawmakers have called the initiative a waste of money when DoD is facing multiple threats globally.

Last week, DoD announced a freeze on hiring.

Robert Work, DoD’s deputy secretary, is using the freeze to compel Defense organizations to fall in line with a “delayering” initiative he first ordered last July. As soon as they do that, they’ll be free to hire again.

The order applies to most of the “fourth estate,” a term, that in this context, refers to offices outside the three military departments.

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