PACKET RAT: Pay for performance vs. the devil you know

The Rat

Michael J. Bechetti

Having narrowly avoided perishing in the private sector during the economic backwash of the Internet bubble burst, more than a few hands on the Rat's org chart are happy to be collecting a civil-service wage'if nothing else, it's a reliable pay check. But they could be in for a rude shock.

Word that the president is pushing hard for changes to the federal pay system had tongues wagging in the Rat's network command bunker. The prospect of their pay reflecting performance and market demand for their skills had many of his staff planning what to do with the money when it came.

'I wouldn't be counting any chickens before they've even been laid,' the Rat warned the true believers among his coven of console watchers. 'Like the monkey's paw, Congress has an odd way of cursing you by giving you what you want.'

The people least excited about the plan, which proposes to make federal personnel practices more like those of the private sector, are the people who came from the private sector. 'I don't trust this 'national market' and 'local market' adjustment stuff for a minute,' said one ex-dot-bomber in the Rat's cube farm. 'That and performance-based pay raises generally lead to one thing'quotas on how many people managers can rate as performing well.'

That could happen, considering that Congress and the president will still set an 'average' pay raise in the budget. That means that managers will have an overall raise budget to work within. So while some performance reviews have tended to suffer from inflation in the past, an adjustment to pay could spell rapid performance review deflation.

'It's not like the performance review means that much anyway,' said another pay plan dissident. 'It's only $700 a year per performance level, and as long as you're 'fully successful''just meeting expectations'you'll get the market adjustments anyway. Doesn't that sort of encourage mediocrity?'

The wirebiter listened to the alternating cheering and hand-wringing with increasing apathy. The Rat has been in government service so long that he has fallen off the end of the General Schedule. 'And given how nuts this place is,' he reflected, 'if I was doing this just for the money, I'd have given up a long time ago on you bozos.'

Considering how volatile the tech job market is, he figures any private-sector escapees on his crew should be happy to have any job, let alone one with a health plan based on something other than stock options.

On the other hand, the idea that linking pay raises will make managers pay more attention to the quality of their people's work, and make 'managers be managers,' as OMB deputy director Clay Johnson III said, left the cyberrodent slack-jawed. 'I don't see how another paperwork ritual with every report is going to make me more of a manager,' he sighed. 'Unless if, by manager, you mean someone who pays no attention to daily operations because he's busy trying to keep up with reporting requirements.'

The Packet Rat once managed networks but now spends his time ferreting out bad packets in cyberspace. E-mail him at rat@postnewsweektech.com.

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