Courtesy Pay

Under draft OPM legislation, future pay increases would be tied not just to written performance standards, but unwritten guidelines such as common courtesy.

The personnel reform plan under development at the Office of Personnel Management would move federal employees into a performance pay system based on clearly defined benchmarks as well as significantly less structured measurements, according to draft documents.

The draft civil service reform bill proposes a new governmentwide system, closely mirroring the personnel overhauls under way at the Defense and Homeland Security departments. The proposal calls for the General Schedule to be discarded by 2010 and replaced with a pay-for-performance system. Experts have said that carefully considered performance metrics are critical in such a system.

Congressional staffers and union officials have expressed concern, however, about ambiguous performance measures. The proposed legislation was accompanied by a draft letter to House and Senate leaders, to be signed by Acting OPM Director Dan G. Blair. The letter indicates that performance will be measured by a range of factors, including behavior and "courtesy".

"Federal employees would be held to more than just written performance expectations and rules of conduct-agency policies and procedural manuals, oral instructions, and even implicitly expected workplace behaviors like courtesy would also count," the letter states. "And if they fail to meet those expectations, the proposal would provide for a simplified, streamlined process for holding them accountable, without compromising on the fundamental due process rights."

A Democratic congressional staffer, who asked not to be identified, said that the "oral instructions" section might cause some lawmakers to hesitate in endorsing the bill. The staffer suggested that the language, if passed into law, could create contentious disputes over job expectations and undocumented conversations between managers and federal workers.

OPM officials said the bill has not been sent to Congress, and they declined to comment on any language in the legislation.

Union representatives also expressed concerns about the performance measures.

"These new types of personnel systems, where agency managers are the judge, jury executioner and witness, are fundamentally flawed," said Charles Showalter, president of American Federation of Government Employees National Homeland Security Council 117. "For a performance system to be understood and met, you have to have quantifiable standards."