Intelligence agency employees praise 'performance culture'

The intelligence community has a culture encouraging high-quality work, but needs to improve the way it deals with poor performers, according to a new survey by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

Fifty-eight percent of employees responding to the office's 2006 Intelligence Community Employee Climate Survey gave their agencies high marks in terms of performance culture, compared to 53 percent in a 2006 survey of the general federal workforce conducted by the Office of Personnel Management. Performance culture reflects whether employees' work is linked with their agency's mission and whether they believe that high performers are recognized and rewarded.

But the intelligence community is "still not good enough" in terms of effectively dealing with poor performers and linking pay with performance, the survey found. Only 28 percent of respondents said steps are taken to deal with poor performers who cannot or will not improve, and just 29 percent said pay raises are dependent on how well employees do their jobs.

The survey was administered to civilian and military employees between October and December 2006, and included 50 items plus demographic questions.

According to Ron Sanders, chief human capital officer for ODNI, intelligence agencies are working on putting a performance management system in place. He added that it would be a precursor to pay for performance.

"We have now started down the course of pay for performance in earnest," Sanders said.

Sanders stressed that the intelligence community will work to ensure it has an effective system in place before it begins tying pay to performance. He said the community is gathering comments on the system, and after that process is complete, ODNI will begin developing five areas in which to evaluate performance.

ODNI expects to begin rolling out the new system at the beginning of fiscal 2008, and plans to start training soon.

Meanwhile, the survey found that 74 percent of intelligence employees are satisfied with their jobs, compared to 68 percent in OPM's general workforce survey. Intelligence employees enjoy their work, think it is vital and find it rewarding, the study said.

"If [the intelligence community] were an agency, it would rank fourth among all federal agencies" for job satisfaction, the analysis stated.

The survey also found that intelligence employees view their senior leaders more favorably than the general federal workforce as measured by the OPM survey. But many intelligence employees said they are still looking for even better leadership and for senior leaders who can generate high levels of motivation and commitment.

Additionally, the survey indicated a 5 percent overall drop from 2005 in its talent index category, which measures employee perceptions concerning an agency's ability to recruit and continuously improve talent.

But in line with comments made Thursday by Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte, Sanders said the intelligence community is doing well at recruiting and retaining the top talent it needs to remain effective. "We continue to attract thousands of applicants who are clearly the best and brightest," he said.

Sanders attributed much of the discrepancy in the talent index this year to the fact that 40 percent of the intelligence workforce has five years of service or less. The "training pipeline is operating at full and sometimes above capacity," he said. "That influx of new and relatively junior employees among the intelligence community might be the reason for that slight dip."

Sanders added that the intelligence community is challenged by a short supply of employees with strong foreign language skills. He said Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell is working to reform the security clearance process, which often has discouraged many talented people, specifically first- and second-generation Americans, from applying for jobs in intelligence.

The survey found that employees clearly understand that the mission depends heavily on sharing knowledge and collaborating with other agencies; a minority reported that it is easy to work with those outside their agency.

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