NSPS questions answered

GOODFELLOW AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- For approximately 200 civilians at Goodfellow Air Force Base, this past year has brought about significant changes to their pay and appraisal systems.

Under the National Security Personnel System, or NSPS, pay for performance is the name of the game.

Even though the new system has been in place for a year, many questions remain.

To help answer those questions, the 17 TRW leadership set up town hall meetings at the Event Center on Oct. 16 and 17.

Col. Merrily Madero, the 17th Training Wing vice commander and Goodfellow Performance Review Authority, impressed on the NSPS civilians the wing's commitment to make this a smooth transition.

Col. Madero made it clear in preparation for this first pay pool pay out the wing did everything in its power to prepare by being the only wing in the Air Education and Training Command to conduct two mock paypools, to ensure all our processes were fully reviewed before doing it for real.

Ms. Liz Tafoya, Goodfellow Air Force Base NSPS program manager, presented detailed information about the process for the end-of-cycle assessments and the first official pay pool payout. Of special interest to the NSPS employees was the recent DOD decision concerning the 2008 General Pay Increase.

Policy was recently issued on the breakout of the 2008 GPI. Specifically, one half of the GPI would be allocated to pay pool funds and the other half would be granted as a salary increase for employees with an acceptable performance rating.

Since the town hall meeting, the policy was updated as follows: 1.25 percent of the January 2008 GPI (not allocated for locality pay) will be added to pay pools and distributed through the pay pool process based on performance; the remaining portion of the GPI (not allocated for locality pay) will be granted as an increase to base salary for employees with an acceptable performance rating.

Following Ms. Tafoya's presentation, a panel consisting of Col. Madero, Lt. Col. Albert Talamantez, 17th Communication Squadron commander and 17th Mission Support Group Pay Pool Advisor, Ms. Sherry Hernandez, 17th Training Group Pay Pool Advisor, and Ms. Tafoya answered questions from employees and supervisors.

A sampling of the questions and answers from the meeting are:

Q: What's to prevent the raters from rewarding good writers (supervisors) as opposed to good performers (employees)? Will this system be just like the awards process? In other words, if my supervisor is a better writer than your supervisor...won't I have an advantage?
A: The objectives must be met, regardless of how well a person writes. A well-written report will not receive a better rating simply because of the way it is written.

Q: How can anyone who doesn't manage money or other quantifiable resources ever hope to receive bonuses? Any group of individuals evaluating assessments will be impressed with $$ more than the less quantifiable contributions of other personnel.
A: Again, the objectives of a person's job description must be met. Everyone will agree that a secretary who may not manage money or other quantifiable resources can earn rating levels of 3, 4, or 5, because that individual will be rated based on meeting or exceeding their objectives, whereas a person may deal in quantifiable resources, but does not meet their objectives will also receive a rating to reflect that performance.

Q: It is my understanding that under NSPS a worker can be considered a "Valued Performer" with a 3 rating and end up with a small percentage of pay raise ( including a performance raise and a COLA raise) than workers under the GS system. Is that possible?
A: Yes, this is possible--anything is possible. Remember, valued performer employees receive a minimum of one share, however, the value of the share is not determined until the end of the pay pool payout process. And the valued performer employee will also receive some of the general pay increase.

Q: Why is the NSPS workers COLA raise lower than a GS? It is supposed to be due to cost of living, not performance. If the raise in January is a cost of living why are NSPS personnel only receiving half?
A: The pay raise in January for federal employees is a Pay Adjustment. Congress authorized the DOD to create a flexible performance management system, to include a pay for performance system. The decision on how the general increase is allocated to NSPS employees rests with the Secretary, Department of Defense. The year the DOD decided that a portion of the 2008 general pay increase will go into the performance pay pools and will be distributed in performance payouts. This is different than how the general pay increase will be applied to GS employees, but we are operating under a different system from the GS, with different and greater opportunities for rewards based on performance.

Q: Is there any plan in place or being worked to prevent GS or NSPS being incorrectly penalized for taking a lower ranking/paying position while waiting for the correct position (higher paying) to open up?
A: I believe this question refers to the 5 percent maximum pay increase that may be approved for reassignments. This specific limitation on pay increases is mandated by the NSPS issuances and not a local or component decision. While NSPS provides some great opportunities for employees that are not available in the GS system, such as deleting time in grade restrictions, there are some restrictions that may not seem fair. As in the GS system, each individual must make personal choices on whether to accept or not accept a position with the benefits or limitations that come with that choice based on their personal circumstances.

Q: Will the pay pool business rules be published and if not why not?
A: Yes, they will be published when they are approved and will be posted on the NSPS link on the Goodfellow page of the Air Force Portal.

Q: Will the business rules include a requirement that panel members review both the employee self-assessment and the supervisor's input/recommendation?
A: Yes.

Q: Has consideration been given to employing an outside facilitator to facilitate pay pool meetings?
A: That option was discussed and tried out during the mock process. The pay pool decided an outside facilitator did not add any value to the meetings, as they did not know the local processes and therefore it was determined such a person is not necessary to the process.

Q: Will filters be used to crunch data to ensure biases aren't creeping into the process and if so will these findings be published?
A: Yes and data may be released it if is determined to be beneficial and is not linked to individual records.

Q: How many shares does each rank get? For example, how many shares does the average person rated a 3 get? How many shares for a 4? A 5?
A: A Valued Performer (Level 3) may receive 1 or 2 shares; Exceeds Expectations (Level 4) may receive 3 or 4 shares; and a Role Model (Level 5) may receive 5 or 6 shares.

Q: We are being told that our pay raise depends on our self-assessment which is based on our ability to communicate on paper. Will people who have poor communication skills, poor English skills, and who lack writing ability get penalized moneywise in NSPS?
A: No, they will not, as long as the objectives have been met.

Q: The whole concept of pay for performance sounds wonderful but what happens if you feel like you really gave your absolute best and you still got rated a 3? Does this diminish your motivation to try harder the next time?
A: Hopefully not! A rating level of 3 is a "Valued Performer" and is recognized as such. Everyone should review the performance indicators for level 3 ratings and see that it takes a significant amount of accomplishments and achievements to earn a level 3 rating.

Q: Do people's job positions inherently "skew" the pay for performance process? In other words does someone who has a highly visible position in the training group automatically get rated than someone with a lower visibility position?
A: No. Every person is treated the same and graded on the same criteria--meeting objectives. As a matter of fact, the pay pool members would prefer if they did not even see a person's name or position.