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Tuesday, June 14, 2016

GAO raises questions about performance management

Is it possible that executive staffers in government are as good as their performance ratings indicate? An article from the Washington Post Federal Insider says that the federal government performance management system is called into question because too many professional staffers receive too high of ratings. GAO suggests that the system isn't credible when 99% of the staffers are rated highly.

The article points to several possibilities or combinations thereof.

“The system is obviously not working in that it’s not providing meaningful differentiation between solid employees and truly exceptional ones,” said Max Stier, president and chief executive of the Partnership for Public Service, which studies the federal workforce. “It’s not being implemented consistently or with the original intent of what it means to be ‘outstanding’ or ‘fully successful.’”

  1. Supervisors are not honest or accurate in their evaluations
  2. Definitions of what constitute "outstanding" are too lenient
  3. Specific performance measurements are lacking quantification and qualification

Dr. James Rodger and I addressed this topic as part of our book, Smart Data, Enterprise Performance Optimization Strategy (c) 2010 Wiley Publishing.

The trouble begins from the top down. The federal government provides legislated services from organizations and systems that are the products of Congressionally enacted laws and regulations. The Executive branch makes the operational and staffs and equips systems with people and technology. The outcomes are usually well-defined and can be attributed with specific performance measurements.

Specific performance measurements are distributed among all of the people and organizations that perform work, and that includes accountable results from management, i.e., executive staffers.

Managing the federal government performance requires knowledge about the law, systems engineering, and performance management. Those things are part of the requirements for evaluating and selecting presidential candidates, and all elected officials.

Federal Insider 
Report says 99% of feds ‘fully successful’ or better at work. Is that credible?
By Joe Davidson | Columnist June 14 at 7:00 AM

Is it likely that 99 percent of staffers in any workplace are “fully successful” or better?
That’s how highly federal employees are rated, according to a report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), as my colleague Lisa Rein reported. 
GAO looked at 2013 ratings for almost 1.2 million staffers, not including Senior Executive Service (SES) members. The study found that only 0.3 percent were rated as minimally successful and 0.1 percent as unacceptable. 
“The transparency and credibility of the performance management process is enhanced when meaningful performance distinctions are made — it helps ensure that promotion, pay, bonus, staffing, and other rewards and recognition decisions are based on employees’ performance and results,” GAO said.

GAO Analysis via The Washington Post

Smart Data, Wiley


  1. GAO questions credibility of the performance management system

  2. Using a bell-shaped curve, one might expect staffer performance to follow a normal distribution. However, the standards for selecting and staffing are extremely high. Often, the staffers are exceedingly more qualified than the elected officials overseeing them. That has been my direct experience.