IRS gets head start on new executive evaluations

klunney@govexec.com

Final regulations on performance evaluations for senior executives won't be published until the fall, but the Internal Revenue Service has a jump on the new approach, which will allow federal employees to participate in their boss' performance evaluations.

Last month, the Office of Personnel Management issued draft regulations that will revamp the way senior executives are evaluated. OPM has said that under the new program, agencies will have a good deal of flexibility in crafting their own performance evaluation processes.

The IRS is among a few federal agencies that have a head start. Two years ago, the agency launched a massive internal reform effort designed to improve service to taxpayers and upgrade antiquated information systems. The agency introduced its new performance elements for managers in January of this year, with the first evaluation of managers and executives scheduled for October.

Kelly Cables, program executive for organizational management at the IRS, said the evaluations are a product of the agency's increased focus on results, customer service and employee satisfaction. Although the OPM regulations address ratings for members of the Senior Executive Service, Cables said the IRS' system evaluates both SESers and non-SES managers.

"We have recognized that it is not just about a system of balanced measures. Everything is interrelated and connected to the IRS' mission and to its customer service commitment," Cables said.

He said IRS managers are pleased with the idea of being judged on more than just end results. The bottom line is still important, but a manager's approach to achieving results is becoming just as integral to the agency's overall mission. Cables said employee satisfaction affects customer satisfaction, which in turn, affects results.

"Most managers felt [the move to new performance evaluations] was a step in the right direction," Cables said.

IRS employees fill out an annual survey with 50-60 questions about the quality of work life at the agency. This year's survey will be the first to include a section on performance of managers, including such questions as, "Does your manager keep you informed on work issues?" and "Does your manager give you the tools to do your job effectively?"

Cables said the evaluations will be used to help identify a manager's strengths and weaknesses-not to encourage employees to retaliate against their supervisors. Managers sit down with employees afterwards to discuss the evaluations, address concerns and work on solutions to problems.

Cables said the system will make it necessary for managers to exercise a broader range of skills. The objective is not to judge managers on their weaknesses, but on the effort they make to improve certain skills and work with employees on resolving issues.

According to an OPM spokesman, the final regulations for SES performance measures could be issued as early as September. The public comment period for the draft regulations ends August 21. Agencies will have until September 2001 to develop their own evaluation processes.

John Palguta, director of policy and evaluation at the Merit Systems Protection Board, said it's likely that most SESers will take a wait-and-see approach to the new performance regulations, but that "good executives will get good ratings, regardless of what system you use." He said agencies that take the evaluations seriously could have some fundamental changes, but emphasized that the process itself should not become cumbersome.

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