How OPM took the paper out of performance management

OPM takes the paper out of performance management

Managing employees’ performance is critical to keeping government agencies operating smoothly --  which is why it’s ironic that the process is not automated. The Office of Personnel Management estimates that two-thirds of federal workers still use paper performance plans, and OPM is trying to change that.

In July 2014, OPM released the automated USA Performance (USAP) tool to help federal agencies manage their Senior Executive Service performance management programs and systems without paper.

“We estimate an average agency the size of OPM spends 3,600 hours a year managing the paper process (tracking, signing, filing, printing, etc.),” said Rebecca Ayers, manager of OPM’s performance management solutions, in an email. USA Performance will reduce the time spent on the process and give agencies access to the performance information that will help them make better decisions. “We hope the efficiencies gained in time will allow people to focus on more meaningful performance management activities, such as giving feedback, coaching and mentoring,” she said.

USAP is a web-based system that users access with either an email/password combination or their personal identity verification card. Employees can check their performance management plan at any time from computers at their agencies or from inside their virtual private network.

Users have a dashboard landing page that shows them where they are in the performance management cycle, any immediate tasks they’re scheduled to take and information on where subordinates are in the process, Ayers said in the email. “They can access their plan through simply clicking on ‘my plan’ link from the dashboard web page.”

Users can enter required information using text boxes and sign the plan using the “sign” button, she added. Next, the system routes the plan through the process at the appropriate times, such as when supervisors must review signatures or it needs to go to a performance review board.

Access is role-based. Supervisors can view their own plans and the plans of employees who report to them, Ayers explained; HR administrators have the most access rights. They can configure the process to meet the agency’s business requirements, manage users and electronically send the plans to an employee’s electronic personnel file.

Employees always know who has access to their plans. Supervisors and the HR department automatically have access, but the system also lets users make notes on the plans and captures who added them. Additionally, users can share their plans. “If you have a management analyst or administrative professional or colleague that you want to look at your performance management plan you can let them log in and see your plan,” Ayers said in an interview.

OPM built the tool itself, and also hosts and maintains both the system and the data. External agencies access the hosting site, essentially making it a cloud-like system for them, Ayers said.

Because USAP maintains personally identifiable information, such as Social Security numbers, security is a priority. The system adheres to requirements from the Federal Information Security Management Act, National Institute of Standards and Technology and Office of Management and Budget. It’s rated FISMA moderate.

“There’s nothing that [agencies] have to do. There’s no security requirements that they have to put in place, there’s no servers that they have to bring inside,” Ayers said. “It’s simply us turning off and on access to the website for them.”

Additionally, USAP can connect with agencies’ personnel systems via data feeds, although OPM has not yet used such interconnections. Ayers expects that capability will come online as more agencies use USAP.

Participation is voluntary. Four agencies currently use USAP for SES performane management: OPM, the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Department of Veteran Affairs. Components of the Centers for Disease Control have also implemented the tool.

Alternatively, agencies can purchase USAP -- the only federally owned and developed performance management system offered to agencies on a reimbursable basis -- through an interagency agreement, Ayers said. To get it up and running, OPM needs a signed agreement, a list of the IP addresses that will access the website and PIV certification information to establish PIV logins.

Because USAP is so new, still evolving and not yet widely used, calculating the return on investment has been difficult, Ayers said. The goal, however, is to offer for purchase what’s available now to start recouping costs as expansion continues.

“We’ve only built a quarter of what we dreamed the system would be,” she said in the interview. “I wanted an agency that had 10 employees to be able to afford this, and I wanted an agency that had 600,000 employees to be able to afford this.”

Right now USAP supports only SES, which is about 7,000 to 8,000 employees.  But it could be extended to general schedule employees, Ayers said, and serve a universe of more than 2 million users.

Several agencies are looking into the system, and Ayers said she expects the next release will increase adoption. Version 2, which is coming in fiscal 2016, will include a performance plan template wizard that will let agencies recreate their templates for any pay plan.

“We expect the adoption of USA Performance to dramatically increase once we offer this expansion beyond the SES system features,” Ayers said.

About the Author

Stephanie Kanowitz is a freelance writer based in northern Virginia.

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