By Vandana Sinha
WASHINGTON – Federal agencies are slow to correct inadequate employee performance, often failing to fire those who do not improve, according to a survey of federal workers and supervisors.
In a survey of 9,700 federal employees by the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board, 59 percent of the bosses and 51 percent of the workers felt their agencies were slow in letting go of poor players who did not improve their work habits.
Forty-four percent of workers and 43 percent of supervisors also agreed that agencies flounder in disciplining poor performers.
“There’s a perception out there on the part of employees and managers both that agencies by and large do not do a good job handling performance problems,” said Jamie Carlyle, the board’s survey project manager.
Carlyle said managers may not act immediately on poor job performers because of lack of upper-level management support, time-consuming documentation, fear of confrontation or resulting work place hostility.
But Doug Walker, spokesman for the Office of Personnel Management, said the survey results reflect perception far more than reality.
Several workers may notice one inept colleague and all report it individually, making the problem seem larger than life, he said.
“People are fired for not performing,” Walker said.
The number of federal workers fired annually for poor performance has doubled since 1990, according to the OPM Office of Work Force Information. The agency said 600 workers were fired last year exclusively on performance issues.
But Mark Gable, legislative director of Federal Managers Association based in Alexandria, said the survey’s results are “right on target.”
He said it only takes less than 10 percent of employees, or the “bad apple in the bunch,” to have negative effects on the federal work place.
“It lowers the morale of federal workers when they see poor performers not being disciplined,” he said.
Carlyle said that “whether the perception is right or wrong, it’s still what people think. … We’ve always found that both employees and supervisors seem to feel there are problems” with performance issues.
The survey of the federal workers also found:
* More than two-fifths said discrimination in their agency is a “moderate” or “major” problem.
* More than one-third said they do not feel protected against personal favoritism within the work place.
* Nearly one-third said their agencies fail to promote candidates based on their relative ability, knowledge and skills and lack fair and open competition when hiring outside the agency.
* More than two-fifths believed their agencies do not promote high standards of integrity, conduct and concern for the public interest.