Government Reform

Least Surprising News of the Day

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A survey of federal workers finds that just 22 percent agree with the statement "Pay raises depend on how well employees perform their jobs."

The employee survey was conducted during the summer of 2006. More than 221,400 employees completed it, for a response rate of 57 percent. The pay-and-performance question received the highest negative rating in the survey, OPM said.

But it was not the only troublesome response in the survey. About 35 percent of the federal employees said promotions are not based on merit, 36 percent did not see differences in performance "recognized in a meaningful way," and 33 percent said bonuses do not depend on how well employees perform their jobs.

Cato's Chris Edwards, who recently endured the wrath of the civil service mafia for daring to suggest federal employees might—just might—be overpaid, provides the standard libertarian talking points. The response from labor leaders is worth a spit take:

John Gage, president of the American Federation of Government Employees, said the survey results say less about the current pay system and more about why a performance-based system would not work in federal agencies.

"I think the survey response indicates most federal workers don't trust a system by which they would be compensated or receive raises based on how they are judged on their performance by their managers," Gage said. "Federal workers don't believe that they are compensated based on their performance but on other more subjective factors."

What other "more subjective factors" could possibly be a better determinant of what a federal worker's salary ought to be than his actual performance? His looks? His taste in music?

On a related note, happy "National Return Your Shopping Cart to the Supermarket Month." Here's a public service announcement , courtesy of your salary-commensurate-with-subjective-factors-other-than-performance civil servants at the Census Bureau. Don't forget bread trays and milk crates, too!

NEXT: Somebody, Give Joe Lieberman a Hug

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  1. As a guy who works on an “objective” incentive comp plan, let me tell you that getting any management to conform to the rules of an objective compensation scheme is like herding cats. You see, because there are always “other factors” that may require “additional compensation.”

  2. Do we really want federal workers to do a good job?

  3. I can send the same package to the same location, on one hand using USPS, and on the other using UPS. At the Post Office, I will wait in line about 15 minutes, be insulted by a frazzled worker, and see other customers act out in frustration at the lack of competence in the USPS. At UPS, I will be called “sir.” If there is a line, they will fetch someone from the back to open a new line. If they lose the package, they will take care of it. They’ll probably tell me “tough luck” (as the USPS will do), but at least they will be rapid in telling me tough luck. I know UPS isn’t perfect, and I’ve had my share of frustrations with them, but the USPS doesn’t even care enough to fake it.

  4. We hired a retired postal worker at our workplace. He informed us that he was not there to work. (I am not making this up.) Needless to say, we fired him.

  5. But Lamar, haven’t you heard?! The USPS is a private company now. (Nevermind the Congressionally appointed board and the billions of dollars in tax breaks and loan guarantees.)

  6. I agree it’s the opposite: How well employees perform their job depends on pay raises.

    Shouldn’t cost of living factor in in pay for the lower tier employees? (Not management and above who usually do better.)

    With even minimum rent for some shitty one bedroom or studio apartment going for $1,000/month or more in most places, how is someone making the minimum wage suppost to not be homeless, much less get by?

  7. The point being that maybe Federal employees don’t make too much, but private sector, service type jobs make too little.

  8. What other “more subjective factors” could possibly be a better determinant of what a federal worker’s salary ought to be than his actual performance? His looks? His taste in music?

    The problem is, “performance” is a subjective matter itself. If a guy thinks he’s doing a great job but his boss disagrees, then the worker thinks that performance isn’t rewarded. This happens in the business world as well as the public sector.

  9. Yes Dan T. it does happen in the business world. Guess what, the employee’s opinion of his job performance is nearly as important as the boss’s opinion, you know, the guy who signs the checks. So, if he doens’t think your doing a very good job, you better dam well find what he wants done and do it the way he wants, or find another f’in job.

    Nick

  10. Change “is nearly” to “isn’t nearly”. Makes more sense that way.

    Nick

  11. Dan T.:

    The difference is that if the employee is doing a good job, the boss has a financial interest in reinforcing that good job. Of course, there’s always room for incompetence.

  12. This is a pretty worthless survey, seeing as how there was no control group. There’s no love lost between me and public employees, but I think you’d get similar results from any workplace. The one thing that unites public and private sector workers is that they love to complain.

    If a guy thinks he’s doing a great job but his boss disagrees, then the worker thinks that performance isn’t rewarded.

    And the beauty of it is, that that worker is free to find another job where (s)he thinks she will be rewarded.

  13. Oh, and we all know that in the private sector pay raises always are tied to job performance. Or maybe being the bosses son, or the race the boss likes, or someone the boss finds attractive…I’ve worked for both the government and private employees and truth to tell there is plenty inefficiencies going on in both. The only difference I see is that federal workers are protected with more rights (including more freedom on job, this is a LIBERY-tarian blog, right?) Oh, I forgot, as a libertarian I’m supposed to worry about the liberty of the owner of a company to order people about than the liberty of the thousand people who work for him eight to ten hours a day. Riiiiight.

  14. “With even minimum rent for some shitty one bedroom or studio apartment going for $1,000/month or more in most places…”

    What? That’s true only if by “most places” you mean “Manhattan and a couple other major metro areas.” That includes DC, but take a short metro ride to the VA/MD suburbs and it drops off pretty quickly. Actually, even in DC proper you can find an apartment in some of the less chi-chi areas for a good deal less than that. And you’re willing to split a house with a couple roommates, even relatively nice digs in a trendy neighborhood can be had for about $800/person. And that’s still a hell of a lot more than you’d pay in the rest of the country, including many cities.

  15. I think it really cheapened National Return Your Shopping Cart to the Supermarket Day to make it a whole month.

    I remember when I was a kid, I could barely sleep on National Return Your Shopping Cart to the Supermarket Day Eve. Now, it’s just so watered down and commercial.

  16. Well, I live in the Los Angeles area. And here, even in crappy neighborhoods it’s getting extremely hard to find a studio or 1 br apartment for under $800 (I’d say under $1000 now, $800 was a few years ago.)

    The exception are cities that still have rent control. (But that’s big, bad, evil government interfering in the market, for you Libertarian’s.)

    Even places way out in the desert(Riverside, San Bernandino Counties), where people of modest means were flocking to because of the high rents in cities, rents are going up.

    I think what you said is still true in many places(thank god) but what I meant by most, is that this is the trend and it will just keep going up, eventually hitting even the places you mention.

  17. Keeping in mind that pretty much everybody thinks they do a better job than their neighbor, I doubt too many companies are getting much better results. I work at a large public company you’d know the name of, which regularly gets cited as one of the 20 best companies in America to work for, and even our annual surveys find that 20-25% of people disagree with statements like “Bonuses are distributed based on merit” and “Promotions accurately reflect the quality of work.”

    Fact is, the people who don’t get promoted or don’t get raises will always complain that they’re being slighted.

  18. The rest of the nation deeply appreciates having Los Angeles held up as wholly representative of it. Thanks Jobriath!

  19. I’ve worked for both the government and private employees and truth to tell there is plenty inefficiencies going on in both. The only difference I see is that federal workers are protected with more rights (including more freedom on job, this is a LIBERY-tarian blog, right?)

    You forgot the most important difference: The government can be as inefficient as it wants and never go out of business, since its “customers” are forced to buy what it’s selling. Private businesses have to pay a price for inefficiency, since they can’t force anyone to buy their widgets and make sure they can meet their expenses.

  20. You just hate us because we have better weather than you do.

  21. Considering there was a 57% rate of response I’m mildly amused but not surprised. Yeah I know that there is apathy and incompetence in both the private and government sectors, but in the private sector it’s a lot easier to give someone a reprimand or even terminate them. Try that with a federal employee and it’s easier to teach a pig to sing. Another remnant of the New Deal that we can’t seem to get rid of.

  22. I agree with Brian24 and others to say a fair percentage of people in corporate offices likely agree that raises and such aren’t based on merit.

    Not only those who feel slighted might answer yes, but also those that received good raises/promotions and believe others have been screwed (or promoted wrongly).

    I’m not sure what we know without a broader demographic, though the percentage seems very high and Gage’s response scary.

  23. This article kind of misses the point. Pay raises for federal workers aren’t based on merit, they are based on how long you have worked there, you know the whole General Schedule. Promotions might be merit based, but regular old raises (step incresases and cost of living adjustments) are just based on length of service. So that 22% wasn’t even paying attention to the question.

  24. And I think that if you want to disagree with the policy of the government, disagree with it. If there is a single federal official — there’s nobody, including me, who has never felt that they were mistreated by somebody working for the government. So if somebody believes someone who is working for the government has mistreated them, take it to the appropriate authority, make it public if you want to, but be specific. But do not condemn people who work for the government. That’s the kind of mentality that produced Oklahoma City.

  25. don’t trust a system by which they would be compensated or receive raises based on how they are judged on their performance by their managers,”

    Shyeah, I have to kind of agree here. Think about it, a group of incompetents don’t trust that they’ll be judged fairly or correctly by another group of incompetents.

  26. I’ve worked for both the government and private employees and truth to tell there is plenty inefficiencies going on in both. The only difference I see is that federal workers are protected with more rights[…]

    jp:

    Uhm, I worked for a private company with inefficiencies all over the place. They’re out of business. I keep wondering when the government will go out of business, but I just keep buying their products. I can’t help myself, really. It’s almost as if I have no choice.

  27. I think people that complain about bad treatment, and hence ineffiency, of agencies run by government have an axe to grind.

    I have never recieved anything but helpful and cordial sevice at my local post office, including a very gracious gentleman, now granfatherly, who still works there that I remember since I was a kid(20+ years.

    The DMV wait time has improved dramatically. Last time I went, I took a book with me expecting to waste a whole day. I’d hardly read any of it before I was out, it was kinda disappointing.

    But goddamn those shitty, smug kids at Target who act like my stopping at their checkout is a personal assault on their daydreaming time.

    The image of the huge, looming government burocrat in a black suit, sitting in a shadowy room, laughing at his power over you and stamping “rejected” in big red letters on your document with a loud noise is largely a canard in the U.S. True in other countries, though.

    (Hope I used “cannard” correctly. Doesn’t that mean duck?)

  28. …………..government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem. From time to time we’ve been tempted to believe that society has become too complex to be managed by self-rule, that government by an elite group is superior to government for, by, and of the people. Well, if no one among us is capable of governing himself, then who among us has the capacity to govern someone else?

  29. And yet Ronald reagan was part of the government. Coincidence?

  30. Even underpaid employees can be highly motivated given good management. …a lot of this is about motivating managers.

    …and in some positions, particularly superfluous ones, why should managers value hard work? If you’re a manager, and your department has twice as many people as it needs, and you don’t get funding with fewer people, why would you value an employee who worked as hard as two people?

    Okay, so maybe federal employees would work harder if they felt like their managers valued their work, but maybe managers don’t value the work of their employees because their work is of little or no value.

    Has any federal manager ever been promoted because he or she thought of a way to do more with less and cut some costs and have some layoffs?

  31. These survey results do not mean that Federal employees are afraid to be rated based on their performance, it means that they don’t trust their management. Do you trust your boss?

  32. I think Dan T. had a point (what happened to your pointless snark, dan?). In many jobs–government or otherwise–bonuses, raises and promotions are subject to office politics and favoritism. Even if the private employer has an economic incentive to reward efficiency, they still fall victim to the human inclination to abuse power.

  33. Interesting that we never hear any of these Federal employees bitching about not being forced to pay Social Security tax like the rest of us. How much extra does a Federal Employee stand to make by having a seperate Pension plan versus what they would make on Social Security. They government just skips over that little detail.

    Private workplace raises are not much different in paying those that suck ass and brown nose the best. Our corporation rolled out a new compensation plan that was touted and preached as all important to retaining quality workers yada yada. That was 3 years ago.

    The first year I filled out all the paper work and did all 3 sessions of planning the years work etc. The next year my boss was to busy to do any reviews so we did nothing at all. Both years in the end I received the same raise and bonus. This leaves me to believe only one thing, no matter what you do most raises are pre-determined and the best ones which are limited in number will go to management and ass kissers. I have no desire to be either so I will take my raise and bonus say thanks and move on when the opportunity is right. Unlike public work to move up in the private sector usually means moving on someplace new once your maxed out where you are and no longer valued.

    In government work your incompetence is rewarded with promotions that move you up. Then the public scratches their heads and thinks how in the hell did all this jackasses get so high on the post, but by then it is to late.

  34. Dee,

    “Interesting that we never hear any of these Federal employees bitching about not being forced to pay Social Security tax like the rest of us. How much extra does a Federal Employee stand to make by having a seperate Pension plan versus what they would make on Social Security. They government just skips over that little detail.”

    Since 1984 Federal employees have paid social security taxes just like everybody else.

  35. At the top of the heaps in federal agencies, the managers are political appointees.

    What “subjective factors” might come into play?

    “Seniority” is the worst system for promotions for the fed, except for all the others. I’d rather see seniority than an entrenched patronage/spoils system. (see: the Grant administration; Tammanny Hall) If political managers set the performance metrics this is the likely outcome.

  36. BTW, all of the feds in my building (Crystal City, Arlington, VA) were babbling about being released at 1400 for the weather today.

    The mileage of the contractors might vary.

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