The Government Accountability Office (GAO) published a “Federal Workforce” performance review report for 2013 in May, showing that 99.3 percent of all non-senior executive service employees are at least “fully successful” at their jobs.
The report was commissioned at the behest of Senate Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Ron Johnson (R-WI), presumably as a follow-up to the Veterans Health Administration scandal in 2014.
“If government managers simply give essentially every employee a passing grade, then at best they are encouraging mediocrity”, Johnson said in a statement after the report was released on May 9.
Not only did the report say that virtually every federal bureaucrat was performing their job successfully, but also that over 60 percent exceeded being “fully successful” and that 33 percent of the non-senior government workforce doing an “outstanding” job.
Perhaps more unbelievably, the report rated 78 percent of high-level non-senior executive service employees as performing at a level that “exceeds fully successful” or “outstanding”.
It should also be noted that performance ratings increased incrementally with each service-level grade grouping, such that just under 60 percent of the lowest level of non-senior bureaucrats received an exceeding “fully successful” or “outstanding” rating.
“Apparently the federal bureaucrats grading one another think virtually everyone who works for the government is doing a fantastic job,” said House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Jeff Miller (R-FL).
“But given the dysfunction we’ve seen throughout the federal government over the last several years, that can’t possibly be true,” Miller continued. “While most federal employees are dedicated and competent, everyone knows the government’s personnel system is rigged to protect those who can’t or won’t do their jobs.”
However, the GAO admitted in the written report that “modern, credible and effective employee performance management systems have been a long-standing challenge for federal agencies”, and suggested “a cultural shift might be needed among agencies and employees to acknowledge that a rating of ‘fully successful’ is already a high bar and . . . is not average or ordinary; it demonstrates a significant level of accomplishment.”
A 2015 GAO report on government agencies senior executives gave 85 percent performance grades of “outstanding” or exceeding “fully successful” for work performed between fiscal years 2010 and 2013.
Jeff Neal, an ex-Department of Homeland Security personnel head, explained that performance reviews of government workers “are highly subjective and fall victim to pressure to take the easy way out and give most employees a rating that says they are great.”
What will it take to hold our civil servants truly accountable?
According to the Washington Post, legislative efforts in Congress to roll-back the appeal rights of federal bureaucrats who receive poor performance reviews by GAO have been largely unsuccessful and termination is extremely difficult, even for incompetent employees.
With Pentagon spending seemingly untouchable and now a civilian federal bureaucracy so intertwined that it can’t even report honest ratings for its own employees, logical cuts to government expenditures may not be possible, even with a Greek-like debt crisis that threatens the nation’s “full faith and credit” to pay its bills.
[Washington Post] [tradingeconomics.com] [Photo courtesy The Economist/Dave Simonds]