Intelligence community defends pay-for-performance expansion

James Kegley

The intelligence community is urging the Obama administration to allow the continued expansion of its pay-for-performance system after a group of Democratic lawmakers last week asked the Office of Management and Budget to suspend the implementation of such programs.

"We've tried to make the case to the Hill and also to OMB that with particular respect to the intelligence community…we are fundamentally different than the workforce covered by the National Security Personnel System [now suspended pending a review]," said Ronald Sanders, chief human capital officer at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, during a Thursday conference call with reporters. "Our system is based on the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency's system, 10 years of experience and in my view, one of the most successful and least known pay-for-performance systems."

Sanders said that discussions with OMB were still under way, and he was unsure when a decision about the future expansion of federal pay-for-performance systems would be reached. Eight Democratic lawmakers wrote to OMB Director Peter R. Orszag on April 3 to argue that a governmentwide review of pay-for-performance systems was necessary because some systems had resulted in discrimination and low employee morale.

But Sanders pointed to data from the Intelligence Community's 2008 Employee Climate Survey to make the case for expanding pay for performance across the 16 intelligence agencies. Twenty-nine percent of respondents to the 2008 survey said pay raises at their agency were linked to performance, up 1 percent from 2007. The number of respondents and results from individual agencies is classified, but Sanders said the majority of employees who participated in the survey do not work under pay-for-performance systems. At NGIA, where pay for performance is well-established, positive responses to the pay raise question were "double-digit better," said Sanders.

On other performance management-related questions, Sanders said the results were "not nearly good enough." Forty percent of survey respondents said performance differences in their work unit were recognized in a meaningful way, and 42 percent said promotions were merit-based.

In a more promising sign for performance management, 75 percent of intelligence community employees said that their front-line supervisors were doing a good job, a measurement Sanders said he was proud of because, "traditionally, [immediate supervisors are] often thought of as a weak link."

Respondents showed less faith in higher-ranking officials, with 48 percent reporting they were satisfied with the policies and practices of their agency leaders. Sanders said he thought that the implementation of 360-degree evaluations, in which supervisors and leaders get feedback from the employees they oversee, their colleagues and their own supervisors, would make managers and leaders more responsive.

Sanders said he had briefed agency leaders on Tuesday on the survey results, and Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair was considering the results as he reviewed the improvement plans from intelligence agency heads.

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