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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


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