Fedweek

Within-grade increases for federal employees “are nearly automatic” despite data showing “fairly widespread” concerns of both supervisors and co-workers about under-performers in the federal workplace, the MSPB has said in a study that likely will add to the long-running debate over those increases.

“Survey results indicate that more than one in four supervisors believes they have at least one employee who is not at an acceptable level of competence. If each supervisor had 10 employees, that would suggest a WGI denial rate of at least 1 in 40. Personnel action data reflects a much lower actual rate, just over 1 in 1,000,” says a new white paper.

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For example, it said that in a survey it conducted in 2016, 34 percent of respondents with an opinion indicated that there was at least one employee in the immediate work unit “performing so poorly that the agency should remove them from service” and nearly twice as many said there was at least one employee in the immediate work unit who was “performing below what should be reasonably expected from them on the job.

The separate Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey highlights similarly concerns, with a question asking whether steps are taken to deal with poor performers in the workplace annually among those with the lowest rate of positive responses.

Within-grade increases, worth about 3 percent of salary, are paid under the GS system every one, two or three years—depending on the step level—to employees whose performance is rated as above unacceptable. They stop when the employee reaches step 10, unless the employee then advances to a higher grade.

Congressional Republicans long have argued that agencies are too lax in paying the increases, with various proposals being offered to use the value instead as a reward only for top performers. While those proposals—including most recently from the Trump administration—have never been enacted into law, that pressure did cause the Obama administration to stress to agencies that the raises must be linked to performance and “should never be viewed as automatic or routine.”

The MSPB said that in ratings systems that provide for an employee to be rated between acceptable and completely unacceptable, 0.2 percent of employees are denied within-grade increases. In systems that do not have such a level—for example, pass/fail or three-level systems—the rate is only 0.05 percent.

“We do not say that WGIs should or should not be denied more often. It is for agencies to determine the criteria for what constitutes acceptable competence and how to measure it,” the MSPB said.

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