Managing Performance at the DOD

October 8, 2009
By H. Mosher

The U.S. Defense Department's performance management system needs to be completely rebuilt, according to a task group assigned to evaluate the National Security Personnel System. Christopher Dorobek explains the problems with the NSPS in this month's Incoming column, Building a Better Government Personnel System:

The NSPS has few proponents. In the late summer, the NSPS task group issued its report ( In the end, the NSPS was handled poorly from the start. The George W. Bush administration forced the program on the department, and the department largely refused to talk to its employees, including the employee unions. Those efforts to firmly establish a system may end up setting it back.

That would be too bad. Dr. John Crum, deputy director of the Merit Systems Protection Board, has noted that few pay reform systems work on their first attempt. They are very complex systems. "It's a change for the organization's culture," Crum says. But it also is critically important that pay be linked to agency missions-and to performance.

The big recommendation coming from the NSPS task group is right on: "The NSPS cannot be fixed; it needs to be reconstructed. A 'fix' could not address the depth of the systemic problems discovered," the group's final report says. "The Task Group does not recommend an abolishment of the NSPS because the performance management system that has been created is achieving alignment of employee goals with organizational goals.

Dorobek offers thought-provoking insights on the pay-for-performance issue in government. He argues that commitment to transparency, a long-running theme in his Incoming columns, is a key factor to the eventual success of the NSPS or whatever program replaces it: When employees don't even know the assessment criteria or how the program works, as Dorobek asserts, how can they be expected to measure up?

How do you think the DOD performance management process can be improved? Is Dorobek on the right track? Is there more to it? Please let us know what you think!

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NSPS is new and as a change it clearly will have attracted resistance to that change. Dorobeck said as much. But unsaid were some of the underlying concerns besides the issue of lack of transparency. Yes, NSPS employees are asked/told to trust that the system will work (equitably).
But when there is no published evidence that the ratings have been assigned equitably, or there are suspisions/rumors that pay pool cronies of the decision makers are given the best ratings, there is reasonable doubt. To fix it, this must be corrected.

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