The White House budget proposal for fiscal 2019 follows through on earlier indications that the administration will push for civil service reforms including pay for performance and management-friendly disciplinary practices, although it does not describe them in detail.

On pay, the budget describes its recommendation to pay no raise next January as reflecting its view that such raises “fail to address existing pay disparities, or target mission critical recruitment and retention goals . . . This administration believes in pay for performance.”

One step toward pay for performance that it recommends is slowing the frequency of within-grade raises—which it says do not distinguish whether employees “are performing at an exceptional level or merely passable”—and meanwhile “increasing performance-based pay for workers in mission-critical areas.” It further proposes “$50 million for a centrally managed fund to finance innovative approaches to meeting critical recruitment, retention and reskilling needs across the government.”

That language, however, seems to mix two separate concepts: performance-based pay and difficulty filling high-demand occupations. Pay for performance-based systems that currently exist in the government, or that have existed but later were repealed, typically involve pay banding with within-grade raises replaced by performance-based raises, but they also involve much wider changes than the document describes.

The budget also repeats the administration’s often-stated desire to make it easier for agencies to discipline employees, saying the current system makes managers “reluctant to expend the energy necessary to go through the process of dismissing the worst performers and conduct violators.” In particular, it criticized the current structure as one in which “employees have a variety of avenues to appeal and challenge actions.”

However, it did not propose any specific changes, such as applying government-wide the shortened time frames and enhanced management powers enacted last year for the VA’s workforce.

More details would be needed before any such changes could advance in Congress.