NSPS made matters worse, not better

Readers share first-hand observations on troubled NSPS program

In his article, “Performance pay: We know it works” Howard Risher asserts that while the decision to end the Defense Department’s National Security Personnel System (NSPS) was “fully justified,” the concept has worked in government; namely, at the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency.

The article gave readers—some from the DOD and others familiar with the concept—yet another chance to sound off in the wake of the Oct. 28 NSPS cancellation.

A common thread in many of the comments received was that the General Schedule (GS) program essentially performs the functions of NSPS.

“Have have any of these ‘experts’ ever actually read anything about the GS program?” asked Mike. “I have to assume not, because it is, first and foremost, a pay-for-performance system. That is what it is—period. It has a bad reputation because no one in management has read it or uses it.”

Mike exhorts government leaders and mangers to use the GS system as intended. “Stop trying to reinvent the wheel. We have a good one—start using it—get a backbone. It doesn’t matter what you invent if management is not willing to stand up to the challenge to follow the plan. Everything anyone has ever asked for is in the GS system.”

An anonymous commenter agreed. “The GS system does have incentives to perform better, [but] it's management's lack of action to use those incentives and DOD's need to cut the budget that brought us to NSPS in the first place. The GS system is a great system, just remove some of the red tape that surrounds a few items and it will be brought up to date.”

Harry, another commenter, agreed with Risher that NSPS had glaring deficiencies, and Harry cautioned that no pay for performance system will work perfectly.

“At my command, top leaders hated NSPS and held no one accountable as to late development of objectives or assessments,” Harry wrote, adding, “Top leaders themselves were partly responsible for delays. “In the years under NSPS, my supervisor had less to communicate to me than he did under the GS system.”

Harry also noted the GS system has many desirable features. “The GS system has more ‘fairness’ built into it than people realize; and it had features to reward people.”

Harry went on to say that NSPS did not make it any easier to terminate unproductive employees, either. “One of the most desired features, to fire someone more easily for not doing their job—I can tell you, it did not work under NSPS. The human resources people blocked action that should have been taken. NSPS was unfair; supervisors didn't want to spend the time; leaders held no one accountable, even themselves, and some people got rewarded with maximum shares because they worked at the highest levels of the organization.”

Jeff questioned the basic premise of NSPS. “If you're trying to improve your organization by focusing on the people through pay-for-performance, your missing the 96 percent opportunity in organizational improvement, the system or process. We're only as good as the system allows us to be. No amount of pay-for-performance can compensate for that. If you want to see what demotivates people the most, put them in a dysfunctional system and never let them out. If they can't see their tie to the outcomes of the organization, no amount of pay-for-performance will be the right reward for their work.”

Perhaps the most intriguing comment came from another anonymous reader who gave an insider’s feel for the dysfunctional nature of NSPS. “Being an employee in the NSPS and forerunner management system for over 20 years, I found that I could easily “game” the performance-based management systems. The question is not one of NSPS fairness, but one of playing the management game to the employee’s advantage.”

About the Author

William Welsh is a freelance writer covering IT and defense technology.

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