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NSPS: An improvement or just another good ol' boy network?

When Defense Business Board (DBB) recommended an overhaul recently of the Defense Department’s controversial National Security Personnel System (NSPS), federal employee unions were quick to call the measure insufficient. GCN readers, particularly those who work within the system, were not far behind with their own opinions.

In a report Aug. 25, the board recommended restructuring, rather than abandoning NSPS. Among its recommendations, which resulted from a joint review by DOD and the Office of Personnel Management, are a restructuring of the pay-for-performance system and a change of the system’s name.

NSPS took effect in 2006 for about 200,000 civilian employees within DOD, replacing the GS system with a pay-for-performance model. However, NSPS has drawn criticism, particularly from unions, over how equitable its pay raises actually are, and DOD announced in March that it would review the system.

Many readers drew on their personal experience in writing about NSPS, including this reader, who said it hinders cooperation among employees:

"Here's how ineffective NSPS is as a motivator. I have always shared ideas and taken on extra work to help out a colleague (as others have done for me) with no need for personal credit because a) I consider myself blessed to have a creative, problem-solving mind and b) I was brought up to share. Now under NSPS, I actually found myself putting off a colleague till my "good idea" requirement was met. Ultimately I had to resolve my moral dilemma, but one colleague actually told another they wouldn't help them because "you're my competitor." So much for teamwork (even if it is a contributing factor). NSPS is analogous to K-12 when some parents paid their kids for good grades and others just expected it, i.e. extrinsic vs. intrinsic motivation. The GS system has quality step increases and monetary awards built in. Most NSPS supervisors really don't know how to rate employees who are different from themselves, e.g. Meyers-Briggs types or people who developed professionally outside civil service or the military. Very sorry system that postulates the lowest forms of motivation among workers."

Another concluded that NSPS, while flawed, still takes the right approach.

"I was under the prototype demonstration program for NSPS for seven years before being converted. It allowed high performers to get additional raises, and low performers to get no raise. The cost with it, and NSPS, is that your supervisor must explicitly agree in writing that you exceeded expectations and deserve a raise. Is this ripe for abuse? Maybe. Is it fairer than non-performers getting the same raises as high performers? Probably. Is pay for performance necessary to make the DOD more effective? Yes!"

Several readers didn’t hold back on their criticism of NSPS.

"It's a shame that the "experts" don't listen to the people in the field. It doesn't work, it never did, and it was just a different version of the "good old boy" system and I'm glad that I am still in the old system."

"NSPS is ineffective and dishonest. It is too damaged to repair. Do they think we are that stupid to believe that a name change and a few tweaks will make any difference in the widespread unacceptability of NSPS?"

"Two items of interest: My agency has been playing with the pay pools. First upper level management (GS-14s were included with GS-13 and GS-12 personnel). Last year they weren't and now they will be. We have concluded when higher-graded personnel are included in a pay pool they get a higher pay package (bonus/permanent pay increase) because they are feeding off the lower-graded people. Secondly, NSPS is reducing the overall outlay of money because those who are newly hired don't make as much money as their GS counterparts. When personnel in NSPS reach the journeyman level, their pay will be markedly less than a GS counterpart. Remember the government doesn't do something for the benefit of the employee. The government's aim is to reduce costs and NSPS is a prime example along with FERS. After 35+ years I am happy to report my CSRS retirement looks so much better than the retirement of those who opted to join FERS instead of staying with CSRS. Uncle Sam at times is not the best uncle to work for."

Others aimed at the unions.

"Y'all are a bunch of freeloaders expecting step increases under GS for not performing in present grades and slimming your way to retirement instead of producing results and stepping up to greater levels. Ooh, I don't want to do that, what -- be a manager? Let someone else do that! Good ol' boy was the demo program that predicated NSPS when those in the loop made the decision on payout."

"The unions are clueless. They are simply afraid of losing their monopoly on workers. Pay for Performance, at its very heart, is non-union, since pay raises are based upon performance and productivity. Union workers get pay raises whether they perform or not. Doesn't seem fair, does it?"

And a writer contended that one way might not be all that different from the other.

"Both systems are similar, as your manager must sign off on whether or not you will get a raise or step increase. NSPS generates a pile of paperwork for all concerned and also takes productive time away. NSPS managers, IMHO, are now trained to be HR people, which I'm sure is not their primary function. Whichever way it falls it won't be pretty."

And yet another writer saw a broader political ploy at work:

"NSPS has not failed the goals for which the previous administration established it, i.e. to politicize the control of the workforce. While I find the existing civil service system as close to a failure as possible, it is the abuse by management that makes it so. A sad day for the DOD and the dedicated workforce when putting lipstick on the pig (renaming the NSPS) is one of the DBB's goals in revising this atrocity. BTW, I am not a civil servant nor a fan of labor unions, but I saw eight years of relentless attacks by the highest levels of the executive branch attempt to thwart time-tested policies to gain their goal of absurdist ideology over law in the DOD."

Posted by Kevin McCaney on Sep 02, 2009 at 9:39 AM


Reader Comments

Thu, Sep 24, 2009 Bob Dangredo DoD

Let's put it this way...NSPS has got to end. DoD has admitted that from the very beginning that their lopsided and unilatteral development of NSPS was underhanded and lacked inclusion of ideas and comments from the unions and civilians. Its sad that DOD thought so little of the civilians and unions that it works with that the felt compelled to develop NSPS in a vacuum. But, alas that is exactly what they did. And now we must go back to square one. We have to terminate NSPS and demand employees be returned to the GS System. We have to eliminate millions of dollars worth of wasted effort that ocurred under the NSPS system so that we can start fresh and new and a common path of developing a fair, honest and open personnel system. NSPS is dead. Someone needs to have the guts to bury the stinking corpse.

Tue, Sep 8, 2009

NSPS is fatally flawed in several ways. First, it is an enormous administrative burden. The time spent preparing and defending employee evaluations is unbelievable. Last year I spent three days writing my self-appraisal, reviewing and editing took several more hours on subsequent days. My supervisor, and her supervisor, then spent additional days (not hours) working on appraisals. The whole process probably cost my supervisor (with two NSPS employees) at least two weeks of non-productive time. Next, NSPS provides no incentive to seek greater responsibility. I personally know an individual who moved from what had been a GS-9 position to what had been a GS-11 position in her career field. The increase in responsibility was significant. The increase in pay - 5%. She was making nearly 20% less under NSPS than the minimum under the GS system for the same work. NSPS didn't allow the hiring official to make her a fair salary offer. Although I've earned bonuses every year, I currently earn less (by about $6k) than the floor of the GS grade my position converted from. It will take several years for my pay to even reach the bottom of the corresponding GS pay scale. I'm in a different career field than most people in my agency, so don't expect much when I compete against them. Finally, NSPS is, by far, more of a "good-ol'-boy" network than the GS system ever dreamed of being. While overseas, looking for a job for my mandatory return to the US, many jobs I was qualified for were not advertised as they were filled internally under NSPS rules. The only jobs coming open in my career field were positions that were of less responsibility (lower former GS grades) than the job I was in. I finally found one and received a promotion. I only wish it was to an agency outside DoD so I wouldn't have to deal with the inequities of NSPS anymore.

Fri, Sep 4, 2009 huntsville

I work for an agency in the DOD. I had friends at Night Vision Labs, when they rolled out the Lab Demo, who said exactly what I'm finding out now. That NSPS, just like the Labs Demo, is totally a good ole boy system but then again so was/is the GS system. So everyone just needs to realize that.. well that's the way it is, was and forever shall be.. No matter what system "they" choose. "They", being the good ole boys and girls, will work the system for themselves. The root cause is incompetent management that knows ZERO about what they’re managing. It makes me laugh. We actually had an SES manager say “that when new government employees are hired they need to be given things to do”. Of course this SES has no clue as to what such “things” are anyway, but there lies the problem, rampant incompetency. I think we’re going through a 3rd re-org in the last three years, sound normal to anyone out there?? We all see it, at least those of us that know what “things” we should be doing and do them. We usually sit around and laugh at all the BS that takes place and how employees try to look they are doing “things” or at managers who try to talk about the “things”. And also laugh at SES managers that try to constantly re-org to fix some “thing” they know nothing (ZERO) about. If you are scratching your head right now then I’d guess you are one of the players and probably have one hell of a write up on your evaluation with “things” you’ve accomplished. It’s basically like when I was in the Army. Out of any platoon you’ll have the 50-60% that actually do “things” while the other 50-40% just go along to get along. You know the type. The ones that understand if they don’t do anything they can’t be held responsible for anything. The ones I used to hold back for KP, Guard Duty or some other detail type duty so my soldiers that were doing “things” could actually do them. Either way folks it’s not going to change as long as we have decision makers that don’t know any-”thing”…..

Fri, Sep 4, 2009 Navy NSPS employee

To AVOID the appearance of the upper mgmt getting the greater percentage, why not just make everyone in the pay pool process their own sub pay pool???? Let's admit it, they are peers, know each other well, probably hang out together and they are going to take care of themselves. If they are their own pool, they would be more fair, if they gave each other 4 or 5s, they wouldn't get as much. Looks like that would resolve the appearance of unfairness that many employees have.

Fri, Sep 4, 2009

I write my employees assessments as a supervior and tweak their self assessments to make them read better. OH I also write MY ojectives,self assessments and my own annual appraisal for MY SUPERVISOR. What's the purpose of NSPS. I don't need a supervisor I do it all.And you are right--the higher grade you are in NSPS the bigger cut you get out of the pay pool.

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