Pay-for-performance: Dead-on-arrival, but …

What do presidents Jimmy Carter, George W. Bush and Donald J. Trump have in common? Hint: It has nothing to do with hair.

President Donald Trump’s proposal to replace the government’s time-in-grade rules with a performance-based pay system may be noble, needed and popular with both friends and foes of the civil service. But if history is any guide it will, maybe after an extended trial period, most likely crash and burn.

But in the process, many career feds will find themselves and their jobs in the public spotlight in a not-so-good way. Here’s why …

Among the civil service reforms proposed by President Jimmy Carter was one to get rid of what the administration called the “being there” pay system. When painted in its worst light, the raises are based almost exclusively on time served in each of the 10 steps of each federal pay grade. Unless specifically denied one because of poor performance, workers get a WIG (within grade raise) worth approximately 3 percent every one, two or three years in their particular pay grade. The WIGs were unaffected by the three-year pay raise freeze during the Obama administration. In seeking to win support for eliminating the in-grade raises, federal workers in general, and their pay system in particular, got a black eye in the court of public opinion.

President George W. Bush decided to trim WIGs another way. It established a special personnel system within the Department of Defense. Raises were to be based on performance, not time on the job. Federal unions opposed it from day one. The administration then imposed it on a large group of workers/managers who were not part of any bargaining unit. The National Security Personnel System lasted a couple of years. Many workers received bigger pay raises than they would have under the regular January cycle where all employees, regardless of grade, time in service or performance rating receive the same percentage adjustment. But unions said that was because the White House wanted to make the performance system appear better (as in more generous) to win public support. The Obama administration eliminated the system — which included pay bands rather than individual grades — but it took several years to reintegrate employees back into the current system.

So where does the potential black eye for feds come in? When it first reported the Trump administration pay-for-performance plan, the Associated Press said it could change how civil servants are paid. It said: “federal employees with a high-school diploma or less earn an average 53 percent more than peers with similar education levels in the private sector, according to a 2017 study by the Congressional Budget Office. College graduates earn about 21 percent more than their private-sector counterparts, while people with advanced degrees earn 18 percent less in the government.”

Federal unions have already denounced the proposal (which was officially released yesterday) and said they will fight it. However long the battle lasts, and whoever wins, feds had better brace for a new round of news stories based on data from conservative think tanks that will “show” that bureaucrats are riding on a pay and benefits gravy train.

Nearly Useless Factoid

By Michael O’Connell

Gravy Train was the first brand of dog food that had brown gravy form when water was added to the dry kibbles. This was designed to make it more palatable.

Source: Wikipedia

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