Report lays out options for managing poor performers

Giving new workers a probationary period for their first two years is one technique organizations have used in an effort to weed out poor performers, according to a new report by the Government Accountability Office.

The idea, included in the Homeland Security Department's recent personnel overhaul, is just one of a several performance-related options that could be applied to the entire government, GAO reported.

The report (GAO-05-812R) includes a roundup of ideas being put into practice at Homeland Security and the Defense Department for managing poor performers in the workplace. These include the denial of pay increases, the use of internal Web sites to track performance ratings and the elimination of an opportunity period for employees to improve performance.

Colleen Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, said she "cannot imagine why any responsible manager would support" elimination of opportunity periods. Kelley said that for the development of successful employees, opportunity periods are essential.

Ward Morrow, assistant general counsel of the American Federation of Government Employees, criticized the idea of lengthening probationary periods. He said that if initial probationary periods are shorter, "you can figure out earlier and quicker" if the employee is competent.

The report's findings were presented to the House Government Reform Committee on June 21 in response to requests from Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., and Rep. Jon Porter, R-Nev., about how agencies deal with poor performers.

The report characterizes poor performers as "employees with whom you are seriously disappointed," based on a definition drawn from a 1999 report issued by the Office of Personnel Management. "You have little confidence they will do their jobs right. You often have to redo their work, or you may have had to severely modify their assignments to give them only what work they can do, which is much less than what you otherwise want them to do. They are just not pulling their weight."

Under a personnel demonstration project, the Naval Sea Systems Command Warfare Center's Newport, R.I., division denies pay increases to employees whose performance is rated as unacceptable, the report stated.

DHS also shortened the time employees are allowed to respond to disciplinary measures, and accelerated the adjudication process through the Merit Systems Protection Board, the report stated.

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