Pentagon unveils new rating standards for some jobs

The Defense Department has released new details on how employees will be rated, and consequently paid, under its new personnel system.

Although the Pentagon had released many details on the workings of the National Security Personnel System on its Web site in late November and again on Dec. 7, it had not included information on exactly how employees would be rated.

NSPS replaces the General Schedule with broad paybands, eliminates across-the-board raises in favor of performance-based raises, replaces locality raises with market-sensitive increases and requires intensive performance appraisals. The system also seeks to streamline unions' bargaining power -- a move that sparked a lawsuit and has delayed implementation until at least February.

The most recent details on NSPS indicate that employees will be graded on a five-point scale based in part on their performance in relation to benchmarks. The five ratings will be: unsuccessful, fair, valued performance, exceeds expectation or role model.

Benchmarks will vary by type of employee. The department added benchmark descriptions for four groups: Technician/Support, Professional/Analytical, Supervisory, and Supervisors in Professional/Analytical.

There are other employee groups, including Investigative, Fire Protection, Police/Security Guard, and Physician/Dental, for which there are still no standards available.

The documents also reveal seven areas of performance (dubbed Standard Performance Factors) on which all employees will be rated:

  1. Technical Proficiency
  2. Critical Thinking
  3. Cooperation/Teamwork
  4. Communication
  5. Customer Focus
  6. Resource Management
  7. Achieving Results

Supervisors will be rated on two other categories:

  1. Leadership
  2. Supervision

For each of the standard performance areas, benchmarks will vary according to paybands. The system designates distinct bands, based on levels of expertise, for each occupation. For example, the Professional/Analytical pay schedule has three paybands: Entry/Intern/Developmental (payband 1), Full Performance/Journey level (payband 2), and Subject Matter Expert/Program Manager level (payband 3).

Benchmarks are provided only for the "valued performance" and "role model" rating levels. For a Subject Matter Expert/Program Manager (payband 3) in the Professional/Analytical group, an employee would have to reach the following three benchmarks to be rated a "valued performer" in the category of Communication:

  • Seeks and actively listens to others' questions, ideas and concerns; shows respect for and carefully considers diverse viewpoints and crafts clear and organized responses, following up to ensure understanding.
  • Communicates complex information, concepts and ideas to a wide range of audiences in an accurate, clear, concise, comprehensive, well-organized and timely manner; written communications are generally accepted without changes.
  • Tailors style and materials to communicate information effectively to different levels of audiences, properly emphasizing critical issues.

If that same employee wanted the highest rating, "role model," he or she would have to attain these benchmarks as well:

  • Adeptly reads complex interpersonal interactions and nonverbal cues and adjusts own behavior to communicate more effectively with others.
  • Prepares and delivers communications that are of exceptional technical quality as recognized by peers, supervisors and/or customers.
  • Uses a variety of techniques to communicate highly complex information, concepts and ideas to a range of audiences in a manner that facilitates their understanding and acceptance of the information.

These benchmark descriptions will serve only as a guide for supervisors rating their employees' performance. In addition to the nine performance factors, employees and supervisors will set out individual goals before each Oct. 1 performance cycle. Supervisors will rate employees on how well they achieve those goals, which are required to be linked to larger organization goals, as well as the nine factors.

All information released by Defense officials is still subject to change after consultation with unions.

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