Thursday, March 05, 2015

Merit Promotion Procedures Often Waste Resources

While MSPB cautions agencies to consider the effect their recruitment and assessment strategies have on competition, we recognize that competition does not always result in better selection decisions. MSPB’s study, The Federal Merit Promotion Program: Process vs. Outcome, reports that the process is resource-intensive, timeconsuming, and often adds little value to the end result.

The study found that selecting officials often feel they know who would be the best person for an internal job promotion before they announce the vacancy. And they select that person 80 percent of the time.  This knowledge is gained from observing and assessing their employees over a long period of time—a highly predictive form of assessment. In addition, the study found evidence to suggest that even when they had someone in mind for the position, supervisors still gave fair consideration to
outside applicants and based their selections on the relative ability of the applicants. In our view, having someone in mind for a position is not inappropriate as long as the candidates are given fair consideration and evaluated on their relative ability.

The cost of applying this competitive process—when selecting officials already have a good idea of whom they will promote—was about $102 million in 2000, just in supervisory expenditures. This does not include the costs of administrative tasks performed by the HR staff. 88 Therefore, the overall result is that supervisors spend unnecessary time and money promoting the person they had originally planned to promote, and unselected applicants became frustrated at spending the time applying for a job for which they had little chance of being selected.

Based on the findings of this study, MSPB recommended that supervisors be permitted greater authority to promote employees without competition. This could be done through expanding the use of accretion of duties promotions or broadband pay systems that allow noncompetitive advancement. We posited that expanding noncompetitive advancement meets the merit principle of fair and open competition in the same way that competition is achieved through limiting the area of consideration to employees within the organization. The difference is that competition for future promotions would be ongoing. Supervisors would continually evaluate their employees to determine if they are a good fit for upcoming promotion opportunities.

This approach offers several advantages. First, it recognizes the need for continuous assessment through observation of job performance—a strong assessment tool. Second, it provides managers flexibility in tailoring selection decisions to meet mission needs. Third, it would save resources through minimizing unnecessary competition. Finally, it would likely add credibility to the current process by reducing “sham competitions,” or those in which supervisors have a fairly good idea of whom they will select based on their observance of the organization’s employees. These benefits would be in the public’s best interest and further supervisors’ abilities to accomplish their mission without the unnecessary wait time caused by the current process.

However, numerous concerns would need to be addressed before implementing such a system. For instance, agencies would need to ensure that supervisors are held accountable for making fair, objective decisions based on structured criteria and that they have the skills necessary to carry out this type of observation-based assessment. While this approach raises valid concerns, it is worthy of consideration as decision-makers look at potential hiring and promotion reform.

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