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Performance Management

Frequently Asked Questions on the FSA Performance Management Program

The Basics

Q: What is the rating period?
A: October 1 to September 30.

Q: Are temporary employees covered? 60 day appointment or 90 day appointment?
A: Only employees who are reasonably expected to be employed for a minimum of 90 consecutive calendar days in the appraisal cycle must be covered. Other employees may be covered at the local office’s discretion.

Q: How will this be implemented in bargaining unit states that have negotiated performance management systems?
A: Bargaining will have to take place on negotiable items before they can be fully implemented.

Q: Isn’t this just the latest fad on the ever turning wheel which will be gone in a few years?
A: No. The current philosophy of performance management really started with the Government Performance & Results Act (GPRA), back in 1993, which established the idea of strategic planning and performance measurement in the Federal government.

In 2002, the President’s Management Agenda was issued, and this refined the ideas in GPRA, and focused on improving government performance, and on budget and performance integration.

Also in 2002, the CHCO (Chief Human Capital Officers) Act was passed placing all these performance management initiatives into law. The CHCO Act was implemented in 5 CFR Part 250 in 2008.

So, this is part of a long, consistent process that will not be going away.

Q: Hasn’t a 5-tiered system been tried before and been found wanting? If this is such a viable system, then why did FSA abandon it years ago?
A: The key feature of the new performance management system is the philosophy, not the tool. The new philosophy requires agencies to identify, measure, and report on their efforts to continuously improve the performance of their major programs; focuses on results, and which processes best accomplish these results, and; calls for a performance management & awards system that identifies and rewards the agency’s top performers. The 5-tiered performance rating system is the best system to make this philosophy a reality. A rating system is only a tool. It is the philosophy behind it that is crucial and it’s the philosophy that makes the new system “new”.

Q: What if the supervisor (manager) is the weak link and the DD is their buddy – then how will this system work?
A: No system is perfect, however, having both a Rating Official and a Reviewing Official helps to combat personal bias. On top of this, Servicing Personnel Offices and HR Washington will be conducting spot checks to ensure the system is working properly.

Q: I have read about the PMS and some of the other cabinet level departments and there is too much subjectivity by supervisors and higher level managers especially when there is a small budget to work with. Why is this system deemed to be more fair then the present performance system.
A: The position of the Reviewing Official has been created primarily to mitigate the weaknesses you mention. The Reviewing Official is tasked with ensuring consistency across the work unit. On top of this, Servicing Personnel Offices and HR Washington will be conducting spot checks to ensure the system is working properly.


Q: What are the forms?
A: Forms are only used in a few specific cases described in the performance management policy. All offices should be using EmpowHR.


Q: Are County Offices to complete both the Web site process thru EmpowHR and complete the AD forms as well? Or is it one or the other?
A: Most offices just use EmpowHR. In certain situations, the AD forms are used as well.

Q: Can EmpowHR be made more employee friendly? It is clumsy to operate.
A: We are continually working with NFC (who own and operate the system) to improve EmpowHR.

Q: Can there be a manual form for the County Office Committee(COC) to fill out and sign and then keep on file so that the information in EmpowHR is accurate with the COC review?
A: The District Director will input all information into EmpowHR for the COC.

Q: Are electronic signatures acceptable?
A: Yes.

DAFO Specifics

Q: What is DAFO?
A: The Deputy Administrator for Field Operations. The DAFO is the State Executive Director’s supervisor.

Q: Who sat on the DAFO Task Force that established the critical and non critical elements?
A: A cross section of field office employees, ranging from State Executive Director to Program Technician.

Q: What is the County Committee’s (COC) involvement with this process?
A: The COC Chairperson will be the Rating Official for County Executive Directors and the Reviewing Official (in collaboration with the DD) for CO PT’s involved in FP work.

Q: Who will review the County Executive Directors (CED)?
A: The District Director will be the Reviewing Official for CEDs.

Q: Who is the Reviewing Official for the County Office Program Technician?
A: The District Director in collaboration with the COC Chairperson.

Q: Who is the reviewer for a Farm Loan Manager?
A: The State Executive Director.

Performance Plans (Elements and Standards)

Q: When should a performance plan be issued?
A: Within 30 days of the beginning of the appraisal period.

Q: What input does the employee have in their performance plan?
A: The supervisor and the employee must engage in a two-way conversation on the performance plan. The employee is encouraged to provide any input they feel is appropriate.

Q: If the employee and the supervisor disagree on the performance plan, who has the final say?
A: The Reviewing Official.

Q: Who signs the performance plan and in what order?
A: Rating Official (supervisor) – Reviewing Official – Employee, in that order.

Q: Will supervisors be responsible to write their own standards for elements? If so, will there be training for supervisors so they will know how to do this? If not, will there be standardized standards written by training HR people for all positions?
A: Supervisors will have to write their own standards. Training will be provided on an ongoing basis to help them with this.

Q: How will the standards for each element be determined?
A: After receiving input from the employee, the supervisor will draw up the proposed standards and give them to the Reviewing Official for final approval.

Q: How will this new system be attached to the annual goals of the agency?
A: Currently, each employee has at least one element aligned with the agency’s strategic plan. Under the new system, this alignment will be strengthened both within the aligned element and by adding more aligned elements.

Q: Can you give us some specific examples of measureable standards of performance recommended by DAFO?
A: See agency policy.

Q: What is an example of a non critical element?
A: A non critical element is a job responsibility that is not necessarily critical to the goals of the office. Examples for a County Office position might be Research & Analysis, or Resource Management.

Q: How much input will the County Committee (COC) have in determining the elements for the County Executive Director’s (CED) plan?
A: Lots. As the Rating Official for the CED, the COC Chairperson will be responsible for preparing the draft plan itself and presenting this to the Reviewing Official (the District Director) for approval.

Q: Will supervisors have the ability to change “required” elements and standards to meet unusual circumstances beyond an employee’s control?
A: Supervisors will need to obtain prior approval for this.

Q: With the current underfunding and staffing issues in the FSA Offices, how can you measure an employee’s performance against numerical requirements of X number of errors on Y number of reports, contracts, etc., when employees don’t have the time to adequately check their work. Bottom line is we don’t have adequate funds for training and staffing to effectively perform all of the duties we are assigned.
In light of being understaffed in many County Offices how can performance be measured when not all of the work gets done that would be done if we were staffed properly? Would there be training, a way of getting rating consistency in light of the understaffing issue?
A: Performance plans are individual documents and each should be drawn up to take into account these things.

Q: Will the Individual Development Plan continue to be part of the rating process?
A: Yes.

Q: How is this new rating performance going to help and hurt a Program Technician that is looking to further their skills by using the new software program the Farm Business Plan yet has a manger who does not want their Program Technician using the system? How can they use this system?
A: The performance management system encourages communication between employee and supervisor, and a realistic assessment of the employee’s duties and needs.

Q: Office policy is defined each Fiscal Year and the question is, can this policy be tied to the elements of performance under the new system? Examples: neatness, organization, timely arrival, keeping phone interruptions at a minimum, controlling customers, etc.
A: Each performance plan is an individual document based on what the supervisor considers important to the position. The examples cited would probably not be in a plan because, while important, they are not key to a position.

Q: Team work is a major component in the County Office. If everyone has measurable standards, what about those tasks that are not being measured? Who will want to do them at the risk of lowering their rating?
A: Individual performance plans only take into account individual performance. Team performance is important and will be assessed and recognized separately from the individual performance process.

Progress Reviews

Q: How often should progress reviews be conducted?
A: At least once during the rating cycle is required. However, ongoing communication is essential to make the performance management system work, therefore, communication should be as often as needed.


Q: Can an employee without a performance plan be rated?
A: No. An employee must be under a performance plan for at least 90 days before they can be rated.

Q: When should a rating be issued?
A: Within 30 days of the end of the rating period.

Q: Who signs the rating and in what order?
A: Rating Official (supervisor) – Reviewing Official – Employee, in that order.

Q: Will there be a forced distribution of ratings, ie., will only so many Outstanding be allowed within each office?
A: No. Each employee’s performance will be considered individually and the rating must reflect actual accomplishments.

Q: Do you foresee a “quota system” regarding this current concept? In other words, can an entire office be rated Fully Successful by the supervisor?
A: There should not be any quota system. Each individual rating should be treated on its merits. It is possible, however, that an entire office could receive the same rating if they were all performing at the same level.

Q: Will things beyond my control be considered in my rating? For example, if a natural disaster makes my goals impossible to attain.
A: No. An employee can only be held accountable for things within their control.

Q: Which is the highest rating, Outstanding or Superior?
A: Outstanding.

Q: As a manager, I welcome the opportunity to have degrees of evaluation for employee ratings. My concern, however, is uniformity. What steps or process will be put in place to help assure that an outstanding rating in one state has the same value as one in any other state?
A: Human Resources (HR), Headquarters will be continually monitoring and assessing the system. Discrepancies will be investigated. There will always be minor variations across such a large system, but HR will try to minimize them.

Q: If a County Executive Director (CED) is a shared manager, do both County Committees have input into rating the CED?
A: Yes.

Q: For review purposes, how does it affect me, say if my County Executive Director outlines 10 tasks and I fully complete and do an outstanding job, but only on half, do I fail?
A: Individual cases such as this are for the supervisor and reviewer to work out.

Q: What happens if the Reviewing Official doesn’t agree with the performance rating of an employee?
A: The Reviewing Official and the Rating Official should discuss this and try to resolve their differences. In the final analysis, the Reviewing Official has the last word.

Q: I feel the County Committee (COC) in most offices does not spend enough time in the office to know how the County Executive Director (CED) manages or how a Program Technician fulfills their performance. The COC seems to do what the CED tells them to do. The COC is only in the office 3-4 hours a month and behind closed doors.
A: To mitigate this, the District Director – who spends more time in the County Office - will be the Reviewing Official for all County Office positions,

Q: What if an employee has a rating of fully successful and they do not agree with it, are they required to sign their performance?
A: An employee is not required to sign their rating. However, it still goes into effect without the signature.

Q: Is it fair to say that the reviewer and the rater must agree before the rater meets with the Employee to finalize the rating?
A: Yes.

Q: If a supervisor does a Marginal summary rating and the employee believes this is incorrect, who will make the final determination?
A: The Reviewing Official.

Q: How much documentation is required by a supervisor under the new system to rate a less than Fully Successful?
A: Each element, no matter what the rating, must be supported by documentation sufficient to justify that rating.

Q: If I get an unacceptable rating will there be a correction plan developed?
A: Yes.

Q: Will the County Committee (COC) be provided written copy of the supervisor’s rating?
A: The COC Chairperson is the supervisor for the County Executive Director and the Reviewer for CO PT’s working in FP, but is not in the chain of command for anyone else.


Q: What type of awards? Same as before, cash, or time off etc.
A: The types of awards available will remain the same. What will change is the emphasis on giving substantial recognition to the agency’s top performers.

Q: Are Quality Step Increases (QSI) earned with Superior or Outstanding ratings?
A: To be eligible for a QSI, an employee must have an Outstanding rating.

Q: Will the new award system decrease the amount of our cost of living increase each year?
A: No.

Q: Would the awards replace the Within-Grade-Increase (WGI), or would they be in addition to?
A: These will remain separate processes.

Q: If any employee is at their maximum grade and step, what is their incentive to try to be superior?
A: The plan is for top employees to receive substantial cash awards.

Q: What benefit is there to an employee who is a step 10, cannot go any higher, they cannot get a Quality Step Increase, so what do they get as a reward for being a top achiever? What if the funding is not available for cash awards?
A: They can receive a cash award, or, if funding is not available, a time off award.

Performance Appraisal Consequences

Q: If the intension of going to the 5 tier system is for accountability in accordance with the President's goals, what plan is in place to ensure that supervisors get off on the right foot to step up to the plate and inform employees of less than satisfactory performance so they go on an OTI for improvement rather than using "Meets Fully Successful/Marginal?" i.e. barely acceptable for extended periods of time rather than dealing with the issues?
A: A new, mandatory critical element for supervisors – “Supervision” – will ensure supervisors take the right course. In addition to this, Reviewing Officials will ensure supervisors do their jobs. Also, HR will conduct periodic reviews of program to ensure this is happening.

Q: With the 2 tier system, employees were accepting of "fully successful" because this was the best performance appraisal possible. With the 5 their system, there will be various levels of successful performance and employees have their own opinion regarding the category into which they feel they belong. Is the agency prepared to deal with the significant increase in grievances that will most likely result when employees don't fall into the category for performance they feel they deserve? Will extra money be built into the budget to deal with the increase in expense? What support will there be for supervisors?
A: The key is for supervisors to establish good performance plans at the beginning of the rating cycle and to rate objectively against the plans at the end of the cycle. Documentation is crucial. The new Reviewing Official position will help the process run smoothly. The agency is committed to ensuring the new performance management system succeeds.

Q: Grievances/Complaints/appeals are very time consuming. Often, it is the employee who is performing to a lesser extent than others who complains the loudest and most often. The process is such that it's very easy for employees to grieve and it seems that it has become the automatic thing to do, i.e. complain, appeal, grieve, when people don't get what they want or think they deserve or feel they have been wronged. While it is easy to show that an employee is not performing successfully, it is more difficult to show various degrees of performance. Once grievances/appeals are set in motion, the process is very expensive to the government and as a result, we are often forced to offer something to make the employee whole or settle/end the matter. Or, the grievance is entirely overturned at a higher level. This is without consequence to the grieving employee who may not have a valid grievance in the first place and often provides a positive result/reward for complaining, thus we further encourage the employees toward the grievance/complaint process and totally discourage supervisors from evaluating employees in accordance with the correct performance tier.

Is there a plan to fix a system that encourages the squeaky wheel? Where is the support?
A: Documentation is the key. If the supervisor implements the new system correctly, complaints will be handled. The new Reviewing Official position will help ensure the supervisor does his/her job.

Q: Is there a plan to train supervisors regarding federal and county grievances and appeals and disciplinary and performance based actions?
A: No special training is planned at this time. HR will assess impacts of the performance management system and training will be provided on an as-needed basis.

Q: What are the consequences of an Unacceptable rating?
A: Placement on a Opportunity To Improve, and possible demotion or dismissal.

Q: Am I correct in that the higher step employees need 2or 3 successful ratings, while the newer employees need only 1 for advancement?
A: No. The number of ratings considered for advancement does not depend on the employee’s steps.


Q: What do employees do if they do not agree with their rating?
A: Initially, discuss it with their supervisor. If agreement cannot be reached, an employee may always initiate the Administrative/Negotiated grievance process or file an EEO complaint.

Q: Are there different appeal procedures within the two systems?
A: No. All employees have the option to pursue the Administrative/Negotiated grievance process or to file an EEO complaint.

Q: What type of appeals procedure is there in this new system? In other words, if an employee receives a not fully successful rating due to a personality conflict between the employee and the supervisor, and the supervisor gives a not fully successful rating.
A: Appeals procedures are unchanged.

Q: Will there be an appeal process if the Reviewing Official disagrees with a performance rating? In some cases, the Reviewing Official may be in an office less than once a month.
A: The new system will not change the current appeals process.

Within-Grade-Increases (WGI)

Q: Is the new performance Management System attached to WGI approval?
A: Yes. To be eligible for a WGI, you must get at least a Fully Successful rating.

Q: If an employee receives a marginal rating and the WGI is withheld, how would the employee be able to earn the WGI?
A: By improving their performance and earning at least a Fully Successful rating.

Q: By having to attain a fully successful rating before getting a WGI or promotion, does this remove the automatic WGI?
A: Actually, the WGI has never been automatic. It has always been dependent on the employee having received a Fully Successful or equivalent rating.

Q: WGI – are they now non-automatic?
A: Correct. Under Pass/Fail, the employee had to have a Pass rating to be eligible for a WGI.

Q: When reviewing for the WGI, will they be looking at the most recent rating?
A: The rating of record for the most recent rating period is looked at.

Q: Are the WGI waiting periods the same under this new system?
A: Yes.

Reductions-In-Force (RIF)

Q: Does the RIF ratings apply to County Office Employees or Federal Employees only?
A: Federal employees only. County Office employees are evaluated on a more individual basis.

Q: On point system for RIF’s, will CO and GS be treated the same?
A: They are treated separately for all RIF purposes.

Q: Why is it that GS employees are the only ones that will be given years as to their performance in the case of a RIF?
A: GS and CO employees are covered by different personnel systems. If a RIF occurs, they are not in competition, but are treated separately.

Q: What was he talking about when he mentioned 12 years for Fully Successful, 16 years for Superior, etc?
A: These are the number of years additional credit Federal employees get for the various rating levels when RIF determinations need to be made.

Q: Adding 20 years to Federal employee’s computation date? For Superior rating?
A: For Federal employees, 20 years are added for an Outstanding rating, 16 for Superior, and 12 for Fully Successful.

Q: In a RIF situation, what year is your rating based on? ie., are years added for rating cumulative or year specific in RIF situations?
A: The last 3 ratings before the RIF are looked at.

Q: If a CO employee becomes GS and there is a RIF, how do the prior ratings as CO affect the service computation?
A: Since the employee is now GS, they would be covered by the GS RIF rules.

Q: For the WGI, if the last rating of record is Fully Successful, but the employee’s performance has deteriorated by the time of the potential WGI, how do we handle that?
A: Contact your Employee Relations Specialist.

Pay For Performance

Q: Will there be steps for the grades included in the band?
A: The 5-tiered performance management system operates under the traditional 10 step per grade GS pay system.

Q: Are there any plans to do away with the pay grade system? There is less of an incentive to do exceptional work for employees at the top of their grade.
A: Not in the near term.

Q: Explain pay for performance?
A: Pay for performance is a system linking at least a portion of an employee’s pay to their demonstrated performance, as documented in their performance appraisal.

Q: What are the guidelines for pay for performance be?
A: In USDA, pay for performance is still some time off yet. No USDA guidelines have been developed.
Related Topics
Bullet Performance Management FAQs
Bullet Performance Management Team
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Last Modified: 08/25/14 12:12:06 PM

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