A tale of two performance management systems: a comparison of the State Department's Senior Foreign Service system and that of the Senior Executive Service reveals the benefits of decentralization.

Author:Caillier, James Gerard


The 1990s ushered in a new era of government in the United States, one that gave employees more autonomy and discretion in performing their duties. In return, however, the government instituted a results-driven management style to hold employees accountable. According to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM), agencies must have a "results-oriented, high-performing workforce and a performance management system that differentiates between high and low levels of performance and links individual/team/unit performance to organizational goals and desired results effectively." Moreover, this system, called the results-oriented performance culture system, includes ensuring that results are measured in performance appraisals and that pay is linked to performance (pay for performance).

Therefore, when government employees are hired, they receive a job description and the precepts used to evaluate their performance. After a predetermined time, they are then rated on the basis of these precepts. Permanent status, pay increases, and promotions are all inevitably rewarded on the basis of the rating employees receive during these sessions. When so much is riding on these ratings, how should agencies go about judging employees' performance? How can agencies ensure that the rating process is handled appropriately and fairly?

The federal government has two separate categories of compensation systems for evaluating performance of employees: those used for traditional civil service employees and the one used by agencies like the U.S. Departments of State, Commerce, and Defense. Although there is some variation in each category, these systems seek to determine who is eligible for permanent status, pay, termination, and merit increases. The traditional civil service system relies on the judgment of the supervisor, while the other system affords the decision to boards mainly comprising colleagues. This article discusses the systems used by the Senior Executive Service (SES) and State's Senior Foreign Service (SFS).

SES Compensation System

According to OPM, a supervisor must establish performance metrics in consultation with the executive (agency head or designee) in the SES compensation sys tem. OPM requires these performance indicators to be consistent with the goals of the agency's strategic planning initiatives. Employees can meet with their supervisor throughout the year to determine their current status in achieving these...

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