home > enews >August 2005 E:Alert (3 of 4)

August 17, 2005


Part 3
“Working for America Act of 2005”
won’t work for a non-partisan, professional civil service

“If there is no struggle, there is no progress. . . . Power concedes nothing without demand.”
    Frederick Douglas (c. 1817-1895)

           This is part 3 in our review of the draft “Working for America Act of 2005,” available from the HUD website. We’ve been asking you to sit and read, to better understand the impact of the Administration’s proposal. Today, we are also asking you to take action. This message includes links to sample letters and petitions, and includes other action items. (to take action, scroll down to IV)

           The Draft Act covers a lot and we’re trying to present it in manageable portions. At this time we’re planning the following ENews Alerts about the Act:

          Impact on Basic Pay (distributed 8/4)(http://afgecouncil222.com/E/aug05ealertpt1.html)
          Revisions to the Classification system (distributed10)(http://afgecouncil222.com/E/aug05ealertpt2.html)
          Changes to Performance Management systems (below)
          Modifications to the right to representation and the right to bargain (next week)

Changes to the Performance Management System

I. What is “Pay-for-Performance”?

          Do you know that you currently work under a “pay for performance” system? Currently, all HUD employees:

  • only get 100% of their annual raise if their rating of record is Fully Satisfactory or higher;
  • only get their step increase if their supervisor determines them to be Fully Satisfactory or higher at the time the step increase is due;
  • get only 50% of the annual pay raise and no step increase if they are “Marginally Successful”; and
  • are eligible to receive step increases (thereby getting paid more) for Outstanding ratings, but the Administration has declined to exercise its authority to pay top performers more.

           Moreover, it should be noted that although some elements of the civil service system have been around since the 1940s, the current “pay-for-performance” system isn’t one of them. The current system was implemented between 1978 and 1981.

II. What does the Administration not have now that they would get with a new “pay for performance” (PFP) system?

           Let’s look at the Administration’s arguments for a new PFP system. The Administration has posted “Frequently Asked Questions” on its website promoting the draft Act. Here are the questions, the Administration’s answers, and our interpretation of the current law and draft Act:

Why do we need new rules?

Administration: Your agency should be required to better manager, develop, and reward you, to better serve the American people.
Fact: Notice they said, “should be required” not “will be required.” That’s because the statute does not include an enforcement mechanism for employees or the union to ensure the agency in fact manages, develops or rewards you. As with “equal pay for work of equal value,” the language is “aspirational.”
“Aspirational” laws are designed to make us feel good, not to make management accountable.

Administration: Your manager should be required to do a better job of recognizing and rewarding you for your good performance.
Fact: Oops! Another “should.” Once again, the language is aspirational. There is no enforcement mechanism for employees or the union to hold management accountable. The draft Act does propose that the agency hold managers accountable, but the fact remains that the Administration has the power to hold managers accountable now, without changing the law. Why haven’t they? What are they waiting for? The Union has asked for exactly this sort of element in managers’ EPPES for more than two years!

What’s not working now?

Administration: You tell us steps are not taken to deal with a poor performer who will not or cannot improve.
Fact: The draft Act is quixotic—at once making it easier and harder to deal with poor performers. For example, the draft Act allows the agency to set any probationary period for a new employee it may want (one year? two years? how about five?) Draft Act at 5 U.S.C. 3310(d) and 3313. Probationary employees may be fired for any reason, or no reason at all. It’s certainly easy to fire probationary employees, but is it fair to fire a person who’s been with the agency for multiple years without any due process? At the other end, the draft Act makes it harder for a manager to fire a non-probationary employee for poor performance; the draft Act increases the standard of proof for removal. Draft Act at 5 U.S.C. 7701(c)(1). None of this gets to the root of the problem—insufficient training, time and resources for managers to assist employees to perform better or remove them if they don’t. The Administration can take real steps to address the problem of poor performers now, without changing the law. Why haven’t they?

Administration: You tell us differences in performance are not recognized in a meaningful way, and you are not satisfied with the recognition you receive for doing a good job.
Fact: We’ll presume that “meaningful” and “recognition” means “show me the money.” If implemented, however, the draft Act will result in less pay overall (see our Part 1, Impact on Pay). And the Administration could use the current pay-for-performance system to recognize people for doing a good job by reinstituting Quality Step Increases (QSIs) for Outstanding employees right now, without changes in the law. Why haven’t they?

Administration: High and low performers get the same annual pay increase.
Fact: The current law provides for distinctions in annual pay between high and low performers. If current managers aren’t implementing current law, how will changing the law change the outcome? The Administration has the authority to distinguish between high and low performers now, without changing the law. Why haven’t they?

The Administration didn’t include a response to our “frequently asked question”: since current law gives the Administration the authority to address all of the identified problems, why haven’t they?

III. Where are the differences between the current law and the draft Act?

          There are differences, many of which we should be concerned about—

  • the addition of acceptable “behaviors” into the performance criteria. Current law permits consideration of “courtesy demonstrated to the public.” But what is acceptable “behavior” under the draft Act? Could this mean supporting the Administration’s effort to move CDBG to another agency? Or agreeing with upper management about a funding decision that is questionable (a la the HUD scandal of the 80s)? Yes, boss. I’ll do it and I’ll smile, too!
  • agencies being able to determine their own probationary periods that could exceed one year.
  • performance management systems that provide performance levels above fully satisfactory only for employees at the journey-level or higher. Thus, for example, interns and other persons not yet at the top of their career ladder would essentially be on a pass/fail rating system and ineligible for higher annual raises.
  • the denial of the right to bargain over the procedures or arrangements that management will follow when exercising their rights under the performance management system.

But the differences don’t resolve the fundamental problems identified by the Administration. So we’re back to our “frequently asked question”:

Since current law gives the Administration the authority
to address the identified problems,
why haven’t they?

IV. You can take action.

           Because this is a draft Act, we can use the agency electronic mail system to encourage you to take action. If the Administration introduces this into Congress, we can no longer use the agency’s electronic mail system to encourage action. We’re assuming that some version of this draft Act will be introduced into Congress. So, the first thing we need from you is:

  1. your private email address and home zip code (so we can match you to your Congressional District) (http://afgecouncil222.com/E/wkg4americahmail.html)

Once you've done that,

  1. click this link to get sample letters and petitions (http://afgecouncil222.com/enews.html)
  2. talk with your co-workers about the importance of responding to the draft Act by sending their private email address and zip code to us, and by sending a letter to OPM with copies to their Congressional delegation. (Need to know who your Congressional Representatives are? Click here) http://www.house.gov/writerep/);
  3. talk with your Local President about having a letter writing party, help organize it, and get your co-workers to attend;
  4. plan to visit your Senator’s and Congressperson’s office. Click here to get sample talking points (http://afgecouncil222.com/enews.html);
  5. send us your ideas for success!
  6. tune in next week for our further review of the draft Act.

(this E:Alert, past E:Alerts, talking points, letters, petitions and "send us your home email address" all reside on the enews page on our website: http://afgecouncil222.com/enews.html)

Next week: Modifications to the right to representation and the right to bargain. And why you should care.

This Council 222 E:Alert (part 3 of 4) was written by Carolyn Federoff, President, Council 222.
E:Mail comments or suggestions to: AFGE_Council_222/ADMIN/RIC/HUD or just hit reply