Pay-for-Performance in Demonstration Projects: GAO Reports

Demonstration projects are often the basis for expanding pay for performance in agencies. GAO takes a look at some of these projects.

We have had a number of articles posted on recently about pay for performance in the federal government.

It is apparent that many, perhaps most, federal employees are wary of pay for performance if not downright hostile to the idea. To give you some idea of their general reaction to the concept, check out the comments from readers at the end of the articles on the left hand side of this page. Most of them refer to it as the “good old boy” system. Others simply say it is a way to take money from their pockets and give it to someone else–or at least anyone else except the writer of the comment.

But regardless of whether you like the idea of pay for performance, the idea has a full head of steam and it is likely heading for your agency in some form if it hasn’t already arrived.

In the Department of Defense, the undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness cited one basis for moving out with pay for performance in DoD as the success of the concept in demonstration projects. David Chu says that most employees involved in the demonstration projects “are much more satisfied with their opportunities in the federal civil service than they were before.” Therefore, the Defense Department is attempting to take the most successful parts of these demonstration projects and put them into practice with the new personnel system.

But whether you work in DoD or the Department of Homeland Security or some other agency, there is likely to be a pay for performance plan in your future (unless, of course, you retire soon).

In view of the comments made by undersecretary Chu, the GAO has come out with a timely new report on pay for performance in demonstration projects. As Mr. Chu noted, DoD has had a number of these demonstration projects in progress for some time.

GAO looked at a few demonstration projects. The projects often tried to make distinctions among employees’ performance. Some of them also considered an employee’s current salary in making performance-based pay decisions and tried to match the employee’s performance and how it helped the agency achieve its overall goals.

These projects in the study included:

* the Navy Demonstration Project at China Lake (China Lake),

* the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST),

* the Department of Commerce (DOC),

* the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL),

* the Naval Sea Systems Command Warfare Centers (NAVSEA) at Dahlgren and Newport,

* and the Civilian Acquisition Workforce Personnel Demonstration Project (AcqDemo).

GAO says that it “strongly supports the need to expand pay for performance in the federal government. How it is done, when it is done, and the basis on which it is done can make all the difference in whether such efforts are successful.”

As these projects are often the basis for moving forward with pay for performance plans, you may want to take the time to download the report and to see for yourself how they worked in the agencies participating in these projects.

About the Author

Ralph Smith has several decades of experience working with federal human resources issues. He has written extensively on a full range of human resources topics in books and newsletters and is a co-founder of two companies and several newsletters on federal human resources. Follow Ralph on Twitter: @RalphSmith47