Federal Manager's Daily Report

The employee merit promotion program at the U.S. Marshals Service complies with the main requirements of law but improvements are needed in the employee rating process that underpins that program, GAO has said.

The agency “lacks documented guidance to ensure consistent compliance with its merit promotion policy,” a report said, and “does not adequately monitor the rating process, which allowed for conflicts of interest with raters who may compete with candidates whose applications they score. USMS also does not monitor the rating process to ensure that raters complied with a key requirement–that raters decline to score applications of candidates with whom there is a conflict of interest, such as a supervisor-employee relationship.”

“Finally, GAO found that USMS lacks documented guidance on rater scoring. USMS only provides verbal guidance to instruct raters on how to score the experience category of merit promotion packages, creating inconsistent application of the guidelines,” a report said.

One result is a common belief among employees that the promotion process is “unfairly subjective,” GAO said. It cited results of the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey showing that 41 percent strongly disagreed or disagreed that USMS promotions are merit-based–about the government-wide average.

“During discussion groups GAO held at four USMS district locations across the U.S., employees frequently expressed negative views and many indicated low or no trust that the process is fair and merit-based,” it said.

It said the agency has taken only “limited steps” to understand and address employee concerns, such as having a third-party contractor, rather than USMS employees, determine candidates’ scores.