OPM to agencies: no ‘burrowing in’ to the next administration

With one year left in the Obama administration, Office of Personnel Management Acting Director Beth Cobert is reminding agencies of existing policies to prevent political appointees from “burrowing in” to positions in the competitive service.

Under current procedure, OPM will review applications for anyone who held a political position within the last five years and wants to continue as a career appointee.

The policies aren’t new and date back to the Carter administration. OPM revised its policy in 2010, opting to conduct pre-hiring reviews on a continual basis rather than during the year before a presidential transition.

Cobert also reminded agencies that OPM will continue to review applications for non-career appointees who want to join the Senior Executive Service — before the candidate formally goes before the Qualifications Review Board.

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Non-career SES and some Schedule C employees won’t get a bonus between June 1, 2016 and Jan. 20, 2017, which shouldn’t come as a surprise considering the freeze President Barack Obama put on awards and bonuses for political appointees in 2010.

As agencies wrap up annual performance evaluations and prepare for a new round this year, Cobert encouraged managers to adopt a new philosophy called “Performance Management Plus,” in a Jan. 12 memo.

“Plus” in this situation, refers to the employee, she said. Managers should continuously interact with their employees throughout the performance appraisal process, whether it’s through casual check-ins or more formal sit-down meetings.

The guidance stressed the importance of regular meetings with employees, in part to ensure that the results of an employee’s performance evaluation are not a surprise.

“During the appraisal period, engage with employees to provide updates on work the employee is doing, why it is important, and how it impacts the organization’s goals and objectives,” OPM’s performance management guidance said. “Periodically review the standards and measures that will be used to assess performance, discuss updates on problems that need to be addressed and resources that are needed. Conduct ongoing dialogues that are future-focused.”

The guidelines also include reminders specific to the Senior Executive Service.

For example, all SES performance plans must include an agency-specific requirement that measures members’ ability to lead people, which “holds them responsible for improving employee engagement within their organization, and for creating inclusive work environments,” the guidance said.

Plans should also have clear standards that specify what a SES member has to achieve to meet each performance level. Employees need to show and achieve more to earn an “outstanding” rating than they might in order to earn an “exceeds fully successful” level.

Again, no employee should be surprised by his or her rating, because managers should clearly advertise performance standards well before the review.

OPM updated its performance standards for SES members in October.

The agency also recently developed a new online course for current and future executives, as well as agency SES Candidate Development Program coordinators.

“The course is designed to help educate and provide federal leaders with knowledge and strategies to successfully support employee engagement,” Mark Reinhold, OPM’s associate director of employees services, wrote in a Jan. 15 memo.

The course is available on HR University, OPM’s online training center.

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