Agencies test new performance management systems

Maintaining momentum toward a governmentwide shift to pay for performance, the Office of Personnel Management said Monday 25 federal agencies now are completing small test runs for improved performance management systems.

OPM, the agency responsible for guiding human resources management in government, began a test on part of its own workforce June 1. About 250 employees in the agency's human capital leadership and merit system division will be managed, rated and awarded bonuses under the stricter system through Sept. 30.

After Sept. 30, OPM will take stock of its system, which aligns individual employee goals with the agency's operational plan, and make changes if necessary, said OPM deputy associate director Solly Thomas.

"We see this as a very significant thing," Thomas said. "As part of this rollout, we are training all 250 employees. We're training them in two regards. One is the obvious -- what's different -- but second of all, we are training them in terms of general performance management."

At a luncheon held by Government Executive in March, OPM Director Linda Springer said the tests, which the agency refers to as beta sites, would provide training and feedback for the permanent pay-for-performance systems that the Bush administration wants every agency to adopt.

"Each agency is required to have a segment, a nontrivial segment, of that agency to be working under more modern performance practices," Springer said. "Modern is even a bad word; this is old stuff. It's just if you pay more focus and more attention to how well they manage performance."

"A beta site is your test site; it's like your pilot plan," Springer said. "And then things go into production once the beta site proves that the thing will work."

Bonuses can be based on the more rigorous rating system in these test runs, but annual raises cannot.

Congressionally approved changes in the Defense and Homeland Security departments allow annual raises to be based on rigorous rating systems there. Proposals from the administration and Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio, would extend some of those reforms to the remaining agencies.

The administration plan, called the Working for America Act, stalled when no lawmaker agreed to introduce the bill. Still, administration officials are not giving up the push.

"You have to stop short of pay; you can't do that without legislation," Springer said. "But the idea is these managers will get practice, without pay being at risk."

Thomas said agencies were required to update their performance management system under the President's Management Agenda, and the beta sites are a chance to test those systems.

He also said employees and the unions representing them were involved in the creation of these test runs.

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