Agencies’ handling of poor performers remains one of the lowest-rated aspects of the federal workplace in early results of the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey taken last fall from DoD and DHS, the largest and third-largest departments.
At DHS, the statement “in my work unit, steps are taken to deal with a poor performer who cannot or will not improve” produced only a 38.4 percent positive response and a 37.4 percent negative response—including 19.5 percent who strongly disagreed. Results were similar at DoD: 42.2 percent positive and 31.3 percent negative, with 14.2 percent strongly disagreeing.
The Trump administration had repeatedly used similar results from earlier surveys to argue for its 2018 executive orders giving management a stronger hand in disciplinary actions — policies that took effect only in late 2020 after court challenges had delayed them, and which the Biden administration revoked soon after taking office in early 2021.
A question that is essentially the other side of the coin — “in my work unit, differences in performance are recognized in a meaningful way” — also produced one of the lowest positive responses, 44.2 percent at DHS and 51.2 percent at DoD, and one of the highest negative responses, 31.6 and 24.3.
At both departments, the only other statement producing a positive response under 50 percent involved whether employees believe the results of the survey “will be used to make my agency a better place to work”—39.3 at DHS and 35.9 percent at DoD. In both cases the negative response was about equal, the rest neutral.
The DHS data also reflect responses to a question asking what usually happens to poor performers in their work unit: 57.1 percent said they remain in the unit and continue to underperform, 17.9 percent that they remain in the unit but improve, 6.4 percent said are removed or transfer, and 1.8 percent said they quit (the remainder said there are no poor performers in their work unit). Those numbers were little changed from 2019 and 2020.