Agencies try out new performance management system

Labor leader expresses skepticism.

More details emerged Wednesday about a pilot program that aims to improve the performance management system for all government employees, with some agencies pledging to start the first training sessions this spring.

The Office of Personnel Management will begin training managers on the new system by March or April, OPM Deputy Chief of Staff Justin Johnson said. OPM hopes to implement GEAR (goals, engagement, accountability and results) for the agency, collaborating with its local bargaining units, by the end of the year, he said.

John Gage, president of the American Federation of Government Employees, questioned the usefulness of GEAR. He said he did not plan to "put out a recommendation" to work with the pilot.

"I don't see anything different here when it comes to performance management," he said at the monthly meeting of the National Council on Federal Labor-Management Relations.

Gage spoke following presentations from some of the agencies involved in the pilot, including the Energy, Homeland Security, Housing and Urban Development departments, and OPM.

Gage said he "did not see any difference" between the pilot and existing performance management programs.

"Especially with some of these agencies -- HUD, DOE -- it's going to be a big year for these agencies," Gage said. "Laying on this type of human resources program . . . it just doesn't excite me."

Johnson said OPM had the cooperation of its local unions and was working through the pilot to make sure a new system would not "do more harm than good." He described Gage as taking a "wait-and-see approach."

"We're trying to make sure it adds value. We're confident it's going to," Johnson told Government Executive.

GEAR focuses in particular on aligning employee performance with agency performance. At HUD, Senior Executive Service members have floated the idea of withholding SES eligibility for receiving an "outstanding" ranking if the agency did not perform well by certain metrics, said HUD Chief Human Capital Officer Karen Newton Cole.

"This was kind of radical," Cole said in a presentation to the labor management council Wednesday. "We know there are severe problems in terms of how we're managing performance and linking that performance to agency goals. The SES corps [at HUD] took that to heart and said, OK, we need to lead this effort using ourselves, essentially as a guinea pig."

Energy also plans to develop milestones with actions over the next several months and is working with eight local bargaining units covering 7,500 employees.

According to materials provided by Energy on Wednesday, the department's plans for GEAR include online performance management training, ePerformance software to support reporting and accountability for both SES and non-SES employees and quarterly progress reviews.

Energy's CHCO, Michael Kane previously told Government Executive that his agency already was doing many of the things GEAR working groups were looking at. Secretary Steven Chu has agreed to what is known as 360 employee performance surveys -- where all SES employees, including department secretaries, must get input from colleagues at a variety of levels.

Other agencies involved in the pilot -- Homeland Security, U.S. Coast Guard and Veterans Affairs were in earlier stages of developing their pilot programs.