Lawmaker targets Pentagon pay raises

New legislation would eliminate annual pay increases for poor performers at the Defense Department.

Rep. Allen West, R-Fla., on Tuesday introduced a bill (H.R. 1248) that would prohibit Defense civilian employees who receive unsatisfactory performance ratings from receiving annually awarded salary increases or locality pay. The legislation would improve workforce productivity and save $80 million through fiscal 2016, according to West.

"The federal government has a spending problem," he said in a statement. "These cuts are aimed at wasteful Defense Department spending and will not affect the overall mission of our men and women in uniform in protecting our national security."

The proposal, which has been offered in previous years, is not unreasonable, said John Palguta, vice president of policy at the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service, though Defense would have to carefully define which performance rating levels qualify as unsatisfactory. He added it makes sense to implement it governmentwide after the two-year federal pay freeze ends. Agencies also should consider taking harsher actions against poor performers, he said.

"If someone is not performing acceptable work, it shouldn't be a question of keeping pay constant," Palugta said. "Possibly a better end to that objective is simply reiterating to agencies that if someone is not performing, give them the option to improve and if they don't improve, remove them."

Matt Biggs, legislative and political director for the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers, called the bill an uninformed and desperate attack on federal workers.

"It is not a thoughtful response to our budget deficit or toward creating jobs, which is what the House is supposed to be focused on," Biggs said. "It shows a lack of understanding of the real-time events that are taking place in DoD right now where management and employees are working in tandem to create a new performance management [system]."

"All this means is that people will set their targets lower," said Jon Desenberg, senior policy director at the Performance Institute, a think tank devoted to government workforce issues. "You need to first define what is underperforming before you get into the compensation issue; otherwise people will work their way around this. It's much more difficult to say why are we rating so many people above average."

The bill will be part of the YouCut program, which GOP lawmakers have used to push federal workforce reductions. The initiative, designed to control government spending, allows the public to vote on legislation online, or via text message, each week. The winning idea goes to the House floor.

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