Feds Trying to Better Weed out Poor Performers

Susan Hall

In an interview at Federal News Radio, John Palguta, vice president of the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service, takes issue with a USA Today story that concluded in some federal agencies, workers were more likely to die than be fired.


The article found that fewer than 1 percent of federal workers were fired from a work force of 2.1 million in 2010. Palguta, however, says the number "overlooks the fact that there's a whole lot of other movement that goes on." He said that during that fiscal year, 3,200 federal employees died and 11,668 were fired. But also 200,000 left their jobs, including 52,000 who retired, 64,000 were released from temporary or seasonal appointments and another 74,000 employees quit.


The Partnership for Public Service has been active in documenting the government's retention problems and in suggesting ways to turn that situation around.


I thought about those who quit on their own when I wrote about the USA Today story. But the high number of those who left doesn't reflect on whether those people were poor performers. They could have been workers who were simply fed up with the bureaucracy. (The USA Today story goes into the difficulties in firing some workers, such as veterans. And it spawned quite a comment stream, including one that noted, "This is how ... the motto 'good enough for government work' was born.")


Palguta is quoted, saying:

I think it's getting harder for agencies to tolerate folks who aren't carrying the weight because it's going to be hard with the budgets to get the job done. I think this may actually provide more pressure to deal with poor performers rather than less.

Palguta also said many federal managers are using "alternative methods" to manage the firing process, including what he called "the hard conversation" in which the worker is persuaded to leave. At the same time, federal agencies such as the Office of Personnel Management are working on ways to better weed out poor performers. In the meantime, the supervisors must focus on making those workers do better. As Palguta said:

I talked to a union official years ago who correctly said, 'You know, if we have a poorly performing employee and nothing is being done, we actually have two poorly performing employees - that employee and the employee's supervisor.'

It's certainly not a problem limited to the federal government. In a package on employee engagement at Workforce Management (free registration required), this post proposes an action plan so you don't have to have that "hard conversation."

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