Civil service union leaders attack merit pay plan Federal workers with poor evaluations would lose all pay increases


WASHINGTON -- Federal union representatives attacked yesterday a Clinton administration proposal to eliminate all pay increases for federal workers who perform poorly, calling it unfair and counterproductive.

The proposal by the Office of Personnel Management to deny all pay increases to workers who receive poor evaluations would be "punitive," said John Sturdivant, president of the American Federation of Government Employees.

Under the proposal, federal workers -- including 300,000 who live in Maryland -- would not receive cost of living adjustments or so-called locality increases, which are designed to eliminate the gap between public and private sector pay in different regions of the country.

Neither of those raises should be linked to work quality, argued Mr. Sturdivant and representatives of the National Treasury Employees Union and the National Federation of Federal Employees who testified at a hearing of a House subcommittee on compensation and benefits.

But Robert S. Duncan, manager of the Social Security Administration field office in Colombia, Mo., and other federal managers told the House panel they supported the proposal, which OPM began working on during the Bush administration.

"We would have some difficulty in publicly supporting a pay system that gives a worker who gets an unsatisfactory performance rating a pay increase," said Mr. Duncan, past president of the National Council of Social Security Management Associations.

Bruce L. Moyer, executive director of the Federal Managers Association, put it more strongly. Giving raises to below-par workers "provides an opportunity for every cheap-shot artist in this city to take a shot at federal workers," he said.

Eliminating raises "will uphold public confidence and internal credibility," he added.

The Clinton administration had already proposed to freeze pay for one year and reduce other benefits. And Mr. Sturdivant suggested that, alone, would adversely affect federal worker performance.

"Individual and organizational performance are largely a function investment -- investment in the workplace, in people and in the latest technology," he said.

The new plan, unveiled at a congressional hearing last week by OPM's director, John King, would simplify the current five-level job rating system into a two-level "meets expectations -- fails to meet expectations" evaluation.

Workers with satisfactory performance would get full pay and an approximately 3 percent raise -- the equivalent of a "step increase" under the current General Schedule pay system. (Each Civil Service employee grade contains several "steps".)

Those who fail to meet expectations would get no pay increase, even the annual January inflation adjustment. They would, however, have an opportunity to improve their rating during a probationary period, said OPM's Doris Hausser in a telephone interview.

Also under the plan, the Performance Management and Recognition System -- a separate special pay evaluation system for managers -- would be folded into the current General Schedule system, which includes most other civil servants.

While Mr. Duncan and Mr. Moyer generally approved of combining most civil service jobs under one pay evaluation system, Mr. Duncan complained that the 160,000 affected mid-level managers and supervisors would no longer get annual pay increases. General Schedule raises are sometimes disbursed only every two or three years.

The OPM proposal also would give individual government agencies more freedom to develop pay evaluation systems tailored to their own employees. Although any alternative plan would have to be approved by OPM, both union representatives and managers criticized the plan for giving agency executives ,, too free a rein, and suggested OPM maintain strict oversight of agency pay plans.

Key to any new pay system, all parties agreed, is participation by workers in the development of the criteria used to judge their performance. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, a District of Columbia Democrat who is chairwoman of the subcommittee, criticized the OPM proposal as "murky" and lacking in details on employee participation.

Mr. Sturdivant complained that the participation of individual workers is not enough. Unions have been shut out of the process of developing the new pay plan, he said, and the proposal does not give them a large enough role within the new system.

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