Rationalizing Civil Servant Incentives

In the wake of the Katrina blame-game, my first
thought about the root of the problem is the culture of risk-aversion inherent
in bureaucracy. Given that we do need lots of people to tackle big problems, is
there any way to organize them to be more responsive and accountable — without
the discipline of the military or the customer pressures of
corporations?

In that context, I was
pleasantly surprised to see this report on Performance-Oriented Pay Systems from the GAO
(hat tip to Our Friend Andy). First of all, I think they
identify the right problem:

in
many cases the federal government has not transformed how it classifies,
compensates, develops, and motivates its employees to achieve maximum results
within available resources and existing
authorities.

Next, they put the
required changes in context:

The
shift to market-based and more performance-oriented pay must be part of a
broader strategy of change management and performance improvement initiatives.

Finally, they spell out what the
success factors are:

as a
precondition to effective pay reform, individual expectations must be clearly
aligned with organizational results, communication on individual contributions
to annual goals must be ongoing and two-way, meaningful distinctions in employee
performance must be made, and cultural changes must be undertaken.resources and
existing authorities.

Well said! I
hope someone is listening…

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