Human Capital:

Implementing Pay for Performance at Selected Personnel Demonstration Projects

GAO-04-83: Published: Jan 23, 2004. Publicly Released: Feb 25, 2004.

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J. Christopher Mihm
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There is a growing understanding that the federal government needs to fundamentally rethink its current approach to pay and to better link pay to individual and organizational performance. Federal agencies have been experimenting with pay for performance through the Office of Personnel Management's (OPM) personnel demonstration projects. GAO identified the approaches that selected personnel demonstration projects have taken to implement their pay for performance systems. These projects include: the Navy Demonstration Project at China Lake (China Lake), the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the Department of Commerce (DOC), the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL), the Naval Sea Systems Command Warfare Centers (NAVSEA) at Dahlgren and Newport, and the Civilian Acquisition Workforce Personnel Demonstration Project (AcqDemo). We selected these demonstration projects based on factors such as status of the project and makeup of employee groups covered. We provided drafts of this report to officials in the Department of Defense (DOD) and DOC for their review and comment. DOD provided written comments concurring with our report. DOC provided minor technical clarifications and updated information. We provided a draft of the report to the Director of OPM for her information.

The demonstration projects took a variety of approaches to designing and implementing their pay for performance systems to meet the unique needs of their cultures and organizational structures. GAO strongly supports the need to expand pay for performance in the federal government. How it is done, when it is done, and the basis on which it is done can make all the difference in whether such efforts are successful. High-performing organizations continuously review and revise their performance management systems. These demonstration projects show an understanding that how to better link pay to performance is very much a work in progress at the federal level. Additional work is needed to strengthen efforts to ensure that performance management systems are tools to help them manage on a day-to-day basis. In particular, there are opportunities to use organizationwide competencies to evaluate employee performance that reinforce behaviors and actions that support the organization's mission, translate employee performance so that managers make meaningful distinctions between top and poor performers with objective and fact-based information, and provide information to employees about the results of the performance appraisals and pay decisions to ensure reasonable transparency and appropriate accountability mechanisms are in place.

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