After the Fall: Making the New Federal Personnel Changes Work

By Crum, John | The Public Manager, Spring-Summer 2004 | Go to article overview

After the Fall: Making the New Federal Personnel Changes Work


Crum, John, The Public Manager


The landscape for federal personnel management is changing dramatically. With the publication of proposed regulations for the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in February and recent legislation which allows the Department of Defense to set up its own National Security Personnel System, over half of the federal workforce will soon be outside the parameters established under Title 5 of the US Code. While ultimately this may result in the development of more contemporary, and hopefully effective, human capital management systems, it will probably also require a transition period filled with confusion and angst for federal employees. Agency supervisors will be responsible for making these systems work during this difficult period.

For example, DHS-proposed regulations have several areas of significant changes. Two of the most critical cover classification and compensation and performance management. In the area of classification and compensation, employees typically will be no longer assigned to the various grades and steps of the General Schedule. Instead, they will be assigned to pay bands related to level of expertise. Rather than being based primarily on longevity, with changes related to the cost of living, pay will be tied more closely to assessments of performance. In terms of performance management, new standards for taking actions against problem employees will be established, with the intent of making it easier and quicker to discipline employees.

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The success of each of the proposed changes will depend heavily upon the capabilities of federal supervisors and managers. It will be more incumbent on them than ever to make good decisions that have the support and trust of their subordinates. Without this trust, it is difficult to see how the proposed changes can improve operations. Unfortunately, evidence suggests that supervisors do not enjoy a level of trust from the workforce that will make the transition to the new systems easy.

The US Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) regularly conducts surveys of the federal workforce. When last asked about the extent to which they thought that their supervisors would exercise greater pay-setting authority in a fair and effective manner, less than half of the employees surveyed said they had confidence their supervisors would do so. Similarly, more than half expressed the view that their supervisors would not make adverse action decisions in a fair and effective manner if they were given greater authority. Clearly, the lack of trust in supervisory judgment must be addressed to make the proposed changes in human capital management effective. …

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