Getting faked at work

Earlier this week, we asked readers if their agencies low-balled performance ratings to save money? A number of people, from IRS, Defense, HUD and other agencies said “absolutely.” As in, does a bear scratch in the woods?

Some said downplaying performance awards was an unofficial, but ironclad policy to save money. But it’s hard to prove. One worker said a former boss had admitted it in writing, and paid the price. In fact, that’s how he became her former boss. So while it’s hard to prove, many say it is a harsh reality.

For example:

  • “Let me chime in on this. Between 2005 and 2008 I worked for the Air Force under the NSPS pay system. We did not have official quotas, but after I rated my folks, they would all be submitted to the “pay pool” (I believe that is what it was called, senior leader on the base) who reviewed everything. They would then return the evaluations to us and ask us to ‘downgrade’ our ratings. So, yes, there was no official quota, but the senior leadership was enforcing one. Of course, I saw something similar when I was with the Army. And, just to lay it out, I am not one of those managers that rates everyone high just so I do not have any grief. I am very fair and rate my employees based on what they deserve.” M.R.
  • “It is absolutely the case that we are subject to silent quotas. But it’s not just about the money. We have four ‘levels’ of performance that we can assign to our employees. During the last rating cycle in October, managers were told that with the implementation of our new performance appraisal system, all ratings were going down. We were not allowed to give the highest rating to highly deserving employees (that’s about the money). We were severely restricted in the number of second-tier ratings we could give (that’s also about the money). Most of our ratings were in the third-tier (they didn’t get any of the tiny bonuses the top two tiers got). But what I thought was really unconscionable was that I was told to lower a rating a few decimal places in the second tier (for an employee who really deserved to be in the first tier) because it was a higher score (within the tier) than other employees in the organization within the second tier, who were somehow more deserving. That has no effect on the money and it just plain hurts morale. Other managers were equally disturbed. This is real and it’s happening, and I’m really glad you wrote about it. By the way, this is not coming from my direct organization, but from the executive officer of our parent organization.” Anon
  • “Quantity over quality! This never made sense to me since the IRS mission statement is, ‘Provide America’s taxpayers top quality service BY helping them understand and meet their tax responsibilities AND BY applying the tax law with integrity and fairness to all’ (all emphasis added). We are not tasked with providing top quality service by closing as many cases as quickly as possible. Fortunately, the ‘critical elements’ upon which we are evaluated properly coincide with our mission. Given this and the prohibitions enacted under RRA ’98, each employee ultimately is (or should be) evaluated each year on the quality of their work, no matter how few cases they close, and despite management’s clamoring throughout the year on quantity, quantity, quantity. To me, management’s ‘unofficial‘ emphasis on quantity more so than quality is not only confusing, but is actually subversive to our mission and, therefore, to our morale as mission-oriented civil servants.

    “When I asked if managers were penalized or rewarded based on the number of cases closed, the answer was, ‘No,’ and more specifically, that just like the rest of us grunts, IRS managers also cannot be evaluated on such quantity measures because of RRA ’98. If that’s the case, I asked, ‘Why is senior management so obsessed with the number of cases closed?’ Answer: They don’t know!


    “My suggestion is … do the right thing … place more or equal focus on quality rather than quantity. This, no doubt, will result in more time being required to process cases, thus resulting in a backlog of case inventory. GOOD! The cases to which I refer are initiated by taxpayers who are requesting an IRS ruling on certain matters. When there’s enough of a backlog, those taxpayers will likely complain to their congressperson about the delay in having their ruling requests processed. This will (hopefully) result in a budget increase for hiring authority so that we can have sufficient resources (i.e., staffing) to accomplish our mission at the level of quality the American public expects and deserves. This may sound like a naive pipedream, but it seems to be working for John Berry over at OPM. Wish I were retiring! ” C of the IRS

  • “Your column didn’t ask about quotas for promotions!! And you didn’t ask about quotas for promotions! Caucasian males and European descended males, need not apply, unless they are from a select list of ethnic or religious minorities, or you have personal pull with an appropriate power broker.” Hank
  • “Mike: Years ago (the 80s) it wasn’t so much about quotas but giving low evaluations to make it harder to leave. Having a lower evaluation meant it was more difficult to compete with others from different parts of the country that ‘walked on water’. If your evaluation was the lowest in the package, guess who didn’t get the nod. I knew of one former co-worker, a GS-12, who quit the government and then re-applied from the outside to get away from the ‘stigma’.” A Fed waiting for a buyout


By Jack Moore

Courtesy of National Geographic: Some poison frogs taste bittersweet when licked.


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