Pentagon issues performance pay and bonuses averaging 8.35 percent

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Nearly all of the employees in the Defense Department's new personnel system were rewarded for their job performance in their first paychecks of 2009, with the average pay raise and bonus totaling 8.35 percent.

According to figures issued by the Pentagon on Wednesday, 98 percent of the more than 170,000 employees rated under the National Security Personnel System received performance-based payouts for 2009, meaning their supervisors graded their work as a 3 or better out of five possible points. The majority of those employees -- 55.4 percent -- earned a rating of 3, defining them as valued performers.

The average rating among all NSPS employees was 3.46, and the typical pay raise was 6.41 percent plus a one-time bonus of 1.94 percent. This increase was larger than the 2.9 percent across-the-board pay hike and 1 percent locality boost that federal employees under the General Schedule received for 2009. Workers in the Washington area received the highest overall increase of the General Schedule employees, at 4.78 percent.

But the 8.35 percent average payout under NSPS isn't directly comparable to the across-the-board and locality pay boosts that General Schedule employees receive. General Schedule employees have earnings potential beyond their annual raise, while under NSPS, within-grade pay boosts, quality step increases and bonuses are factored into the overall performance-based pay increase.

Announcement of the 2009 payouts comes on the heels of a congressional request to slow implementation of NSPS. Two Democrats on the House Armed Services Committee recently asked the Pentagon to stop converting employees to the system until the Obama administration and lawmakers complete a thorough review. The lawmakers noted concerns with the costs and transparency of NSPS.

A Defense employee who requested anonymity said on Wednesday that while the average 2009 payouts appear to be larger than the General Schedule increase, the system still is a "zero-sum game."

"In the short term, [NSPS employees] may seem to do better, but GS employees receiving a scheduled step increase and/or promotion can still stand to do better than a 3-rated NSPS employee," the worker said. "Over time, it should even out between the two systems -- in theory, at least."

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