February 11, 2008
Dionne O'Neal
(202) 639-6491

Congress Must Address Flawed Pay for Performance Systems, Says AFGE

(WASHINGTON)—American Federation of Government Employees National President John Gage testified today before the House Subcommittee on the Federal Workforce, Postal Service, and the District of Columbia to voice AFGE’s concerns over pay-for-performance systems. While AFGE commends Congress’ recent action to restore collective bargaining and appeal rights to the proposed National Security Personnel System through the Defense Authorization bill, Gage called on Congress to address the overwhelming subjectivity and bias that remain under NSPS and other pay-for-performance systems, such as the Transportation Security Administration’s Performance Accountability and Standards System (PASS).

“The Bush administration likes to falsely claim that pay-for-performance systems are designed to adhere to the merit system principle of equal pay for substantially equal work,” said Gage. “Employees who have had the misfortune of working under these systems know otherwise. When surveyed, federal workers express skepticism about their chances to excel in the workforce because their opportunities and evaluations depend so much upon their supervisor’s arbitrary set of expectations and preferences.”

Because it is the Department of Defense’s intention that NSPS pay not exceed the cost of the General Schedule (GS), the performance-based system is required to fit ratings into a normal distribution, or bell curve. In practice this means that numerical ratings can be changed not because of failure to reach performance objectives, but instead to align with pre-set ceilings on ratings necessary to assure adequate funding for pay pool distributions.

“Far too many managers have told us they had carefully rated their subordinates as objectively as possible, only to be told that those ratings had to be lowered in order to get to the bell curve,” Gage said. “Further, there is no consistency on how many shares an employees receives for a particular rating, or whether those shares will go toward a salary increase or cash bonus.”

While Transportation Security Officers do not fall under the GS system, they are still subject to PASS —a performance-based system that does not facilitate the well-trained, well-compensated screener workforce the American public repeatedly has called for. As with NSPS, AFGE urges Congress to require that the agency provide data that will allow for an evaluation of the system.

“Understandably confused about the system, TSA workers tell us that PASS is based on favoritism, not merit,” Gage said. “Employees express a strong desire to move to the GS system so they can at least be assured of a stable standard of living. AFGE urges the subcommittee to end the grossly unfair and inadequate PASS system, and instead place TSOs under the market-based General Schedule that applies to other federal workers, including their colleagues in DHS.”

AFGE President John Gage's Testimony on Flawed Pay for Performance Systems

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