U.S. Civil Service: Partnership for Public Service and Booz Allen Hamilton Propose Unfair, Inequitable Dick Grote Style “Rank and Yank” System for the Civil Service, despite Its Many Flaws

The second merit system principle (5 U.S.C. sec. 2301(b)) reads as follows and must guide any successful civil service reform proposal:

All employees and applicants for employment should receive fair and equitable treatment in all aspects of personnel management without regard to political affiliation, race, color, religion, national origin, sex, marital status, age, or handicapping condition, and with proper regard for their privacy and constitutional rights.

The website, Government Executive, published an article about a proposal from the Partnership for Public Service (PPS) and the federal contractor Booz Allen Hamilton (BAH) to reform the federal civil service in the United States. (See report at http://cdn.govexec.com/media/gbc/docs/pdfs_edit/040114e1.pdf.) In short, PPS and BAH propose an inhumane and cruel solution, rank and yank, (contrary to the second merit system principle)– wrapped up in a colorful PDF document and poor, vague writing–that must be rejected totally.

I continue to be amazed that a system that caused organizational failure (Enron) or organizational disarray and destruction of innovation in a high-tech company (Microsoft) continues to be seen as a positive cure-all solution. Any proposal that seeks to enrich few people at the cost of the many is an insult to the democratic form of government that governs the country; how ironic that such an undemocratic proposal is fashioned for the United States government’s civil service.

Among the various proposals was a stunning one–a rank and yank system. (Emphasis, below, mine.)

Problem seen by PPS & BAH: Rigid policies that were designed to encourage long-term tenure and internal equity, for example, are now a burden on a government that needs to encourage flexibility and innovation to meet rapidly changing and difficult challenges. (Page 8, second column, second full paragraph of PPS & BAH report.)

Their solution–a rank-and-yank style system: With a credible performance management system in place, our proposed system would eliminate tenure-based pay increases for managers and employees, and instead make pay progression within a particular salary band based strictly on performance—up to an occupation’s market rate for performance that meets expectations, and above that rate only for performance that exceeds expectations. Employees who fail to meet their performance expectations would not be eligible for a base pay increase until their performance improves to satisfactory levels. (Page 25, second column, second full paragraph of the PPS & BAH report.)

PPS and BAH rank-and-yank style system slightly differs from the full system proposed by Dick Grote in that it recommends no salary increase rather than direct firing. But curiously, with all of the vague and convoluted verbiage of the report, PPS and BAH do not say how this proposal will be paid for.

Given the reality of fixed salary budgets in government and a comment by Robert Tobias, consulted on the report, stating that the proposal will likely be budget neutral, I infer that the small amount of so-called top performers will be enriched at the impoverishment of the large remainder of the workforce (some of them suffering everlasting stagnant pay). This blatant inequity and unfairness, itself in violation of the merit principles the PPS & BAH report notes that it values (page 9), is likely the reason for the confusing writing in this part of the report. Given a flat salary pool, those designated as so-called poor performers would likely never get another increase while witnessing their paycheck’s economic power withering away as a result of inflation and an increasing cost of living.

Rank and yank, pay for performance, up or out, whatever it is called really works one way: Giving the managers the absolute power to sort the workforce (in secret), giving the employee little to no ability to participate or appeal the management decision. Twenty percent will be designated as the richly rewarded “top performers,” 70% will be designated as “vital” and yet receive little salary increase, and then 10% will be designated as poor performers, with no salary increase at all until they decide to quit or suffer with working hard for a salary that cannot keep up with their cost of living.

This cruel proposal must be subject to discussion of all consequences, with complete involvement of the public, in clear language and then rejected.