Readers Prefer Current Civil Service Structure

Most readers prefer to keep the current civil service structure and prefer a pay system where everyone gets the same basic pay raise.

What do federal employees think of the proposal to modernize the civil service structure? We see a large number of complaints from readers about the current civil service structure ranging from the pay is too low and the benefits are inferior to corporate America to allegations about favortism with job assignments and promotions. But, despite the complaints, our most recent survey shows that most readers would rather keep the current system anyway.

We took a survey in recent days about a proposal to modernize the civil service structure. Here are the results.

Most readers prefer the system the way it is but 82% think the proposals will be implemented in some form. 8% think they will not be implemented and 11% are not sure. 63% think the proposal to modernize the civil service structure will not create a more effective government. 24% think it will create a more effective government and 13% are not sure.

On a brighter note, 46% think that a pay for performance system could work in the federal government. 40% think it cannot work in a government structure and 15% are not sure.

Perhaps the most surprising result for some readers will be this: 63% of those responding indicate they prefer to work under a system in which most employees receive the same basic pay raise. 30% prefer a system under which an agency has flexibility to provide higher pay raises to some employees and 7% are not sure which type of system they would prefer.

It is possible that most federal employees just like a socialist system where everyone is treated the same way and no one gets rewarded for better performance. But a more likely reason is cynicism about how a new system will work. The most frequent comment is the return to the "good old boys" system.

This comment from Hill AFB in Utah is typical of these comments: "The pay for performance system has a chance of enhancing the buddy system. I think it will be who you know and not what you do."

And a similar comment from an employee in the Dept. of Defense in Oklahoma City: "I believe the present system would work if Managers woud just do their job. Get out of their offices and see whats happening in their department. My view of goverment managers as a whole they couldn’t hold a like position in the civilian sector. I’m afraid the the new system will just turn into a good-old-boys system."

An employee of the FAA in Washington, DC says their pay for performance system doesn’t work now: "Its not working in the FAA and we have been at it for years."

A human resources specialist from the Dept. of Agriculture in Washington, DC doesn’t want a new system: "Good idea in theory, however, implementation by incompetent and vindictive career and political management will not result in a better workforce or workplace."

And a supervisory labor relations specialist from DoD in Washington thinks the nature of the civil service will make reform very difficult: "The fly in the ointment is the litigious nature of Civil Service. In this environment, it is difficult to imagine a manager making honest decisions as to merit, knowing that any differentiation that he/she makes will probably be litigated."

In other words, many readers think someone else will get the financial rewards because of favortism by the supervisor and, given a choice, they would prefer that everyone get the same pay raise.

An administrative officer with the Forest Service thinks the civil service system is falling apart. "The civil service system was created to develop an impartial public servant. Look at other countires where the level of service one receives depends upon who one knows or the amount of bribe money one can give. That isn’t a future I want to see. In those situations, services can change drastically depending on the leadership. With the system we have now, the public can expect fair and equal treatment and they have recourse when they don’t receive it. I’d like to keep that ethic while allowing for some changes to improve the rewards for high performing individuals."

A human resources specialist with the Treasury Department in Dallas thinks seniority should be rewarded and the current system does that: "As to the pay for performance scheme, it is just a way to lower the overall wage structure. Those that are exceptional employees can already receive performance awards and within-grade increases. Isn’t that pay for performance? Just what is wrong with rewarding employees that stay with an agency for a long time? Shouldn’t their loyalty also be rewarded? Reduced turnover saves the agency money and the savings should be distributed to the employees in the form of WGIs."

And again from the human resources community, this personnel specialist from the Bureau of Land Management in Denver: "I am concerned about the potential for abuse in a pay for performance system. Such a system places considerable responsibity on the shoulders of supervisors and managers. Couple this with the significant lessening of union and employee rights and you have an environment where unethical or incompetent managers could do significant damage to careers and core programs."

But these statements are not the sentiments of all readers. For example, a human resources specialist for the EPA in Cincinnati has this comment: "Change is desparately needed. The sooner the better!"

And a systems operator from the VA in California doesn’t think too highly of his fellow workers: "It would be best to weed out the slobs who do nothing all day!"

 Another VA employee from California has a similar view of the federal workforce: "This proposed reform is way overdue, as a 30 year employee working from the DOD to the V.A. I have seen my fair share of inept employees, ‘just showing up for work’, and too many hardworking, dedicated federal employees taking up the slack with little to no acknowledgement of their work."

And an engineering technicial from China Lake, CA thinks a pay for performance system will be a big improvement: "We’ve been under the Demo program for years and it works just fine. Much better than the GS."

And there are a number of readers (although a minority) who think a pay for performance system will create a more effective government. This employee from DFAS in Indianapolis writes: "It is about time the civil service system is revamped. "Pay for performance" is definately the way to go. On the outside, if you are not doing your job, you are demoted or fired – in the government you’re given the same raise as someone who actually gives 100% and sometimes even promoted into another position. The time for change is definitely overdue."

This reader from Bureau of Reclamation likes the idea of creating more pay incentives for better performers: "I believe the current performance system trends employees toward average performance rather than excellence. Excellence in federal service is what is needed for the United States to meet increasing challenges. If all are paid the same, what is the incentive to achieve unless one is extremely internally motivated. There is also currently a covert message sent by colleagues that you should not excel because most employees do not want the bar set too high. There is a preference to coast and settle in a comfort zone rather than meeting challenges with innovation, energy and creativity."

Several readers stated their view that the government should not be like corporate America. Here is one reader that thinks the high pay and benefits of federal employees are enough to recruit new people into goverment: "Speaking from a typical rural, farming, small town angle, federal positions have always been a desired job because of the pay & benefits. If all these ‘perks’ are taken away, why would anyone want to work for the government instead of private business – what would be the drawing card?

And why would a current employee want to stay? I don’t know understand why the Federal Government thinks it has to compete with the private sector."

Thanks to the hundreds of readers who took the time to vote in our recent survey and to send in their comments.

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