GAO has documented the differences of opinion in the federal workforce on performance evaluations and in particular whether good performance is rewarded, showing that the view consistently gets rosier with each level up the chain of command.

As part of a larger review of how agencies evaluate employees, GAO compared responses since 2010 by job level to questions about ratings, rewards and discipline on the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey.


One of the lowest overall positive responses on that annual survey asks whether “differences in performance are recognized in a meaningful way.” GAO found that over that period, only low-30s percentages of non-supervisory employees (including “team leaders”) agreed or strongly agreed. However, the average positive response rate was about 50 percent for supervisors, 60 percent among managers and 70 percent among senior leaders (defined as SES level or above). Similar responses rates apply to the question asking whether promotions are based on merit.

The question asking whether employees are recognized for providing high-quality products or services showed the same pattern, although overall at higher levels, ranging from about 50 percent average positive at the lowest levels to about 80 percent at the highest.

Similarly, an average of about 25 percent of non-supervisors agreed or strongly agreed over that time that steps are taken to deal with poor performers in their workplaces, compared with the mid-40s for immediate supervisors, the mid-50s for managers and the mid-60s for senior leaders.

GAO pointed to its previously stated positions that “high-performing organizations seek to create effective incentive and reward systems that clearly link employee knowledge, skills, and contributions to organizational results”; and that “supervisors who take performance management seriously and have the necessary training and support can help poorly performing employees either improve or realize they are not a good fit for the position.”

It recommended that OPM better “leverage its leadership position to formally identify and share emerging performance management research and innovation with agencies.”