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10.12.09

LA moving in right direction with pay plan proposal

Louisiana’s State Civil Service Commission couldn’t quite take the heat, but set the stage for a truly revolutionary and welcome change to personnel pay policy that will create better state government service at reduced costs.

The SCSC approved almost unanimously (the only non-gubernatorial-appointed member abstaining) to create a tiered system of pay increases that occur only when certain benchmark levels of performance are achieved in annual reviews of classified service employees. This is in contrast to the present system that allows only for an all-or-nothing four percent increase for any employee, as almost every single one has been given in the past, who receives a review scoring in one of the top three of five categories.

The advantages of the new system are legion: efficiency will be encouraged as slack performers will receive less than better ones, encouraging the former to exit and the latter to stay in state employment, and money might actually be saved along with this improved performance. Critics claim it will allow too much subjectivity and discretion in the hands of supervisors, but the same amount of discretion already exists under the present system.

However, the several parades of whining state employees (probably the ones who would end up getting lower evaluations under the proposed system and/or don’t work to their full potential knowing it’s not necessary to get the full pay raise under the current regime) that appeared at various times over the past few months in front of the SCSC apparently got to it to partially. The original plan would have allowed agencies to give up to three, four, or six percent raises, respectively, for the middle, next-highest, and highest evaluation categories; the proposal that passed made those levels mandatory unless the Commission approved an exception.

This has lead Gov. Bobby Jindal, who must approve all changes in pay plans forwarded by the Commission, to state he will refuse to approve it and return it for inclusion of the original idea. Since Jindal appoints six-sevenths of the Commission, if the current crop of commissioners wants to retain their jobs (and assuming Jindal wins, as is likely at this point, a second term in office), they will have little choice to comply. Jindal (as well as proponents in the Legislature) believes the flexibility excised from the proposal is important for the whole to work best. If left to a case-by-case basis, agencies may be reluctant having to go through the process to give lesser amounts, and would mean the Division of Administration would be less able to steer strategically resources to agencies on the basis of priority.

Perhaps as a compensatory measure, the Commission also stated it was going to tackle an even bigger problem that if not resolved largely would moot any of the proposed change: the skewed results of evaluations that assign almost all employees into the top three categories (and almost half in the top two). It is inconceivable that the state of Louisiana could acquire such a monopoly on high-performing individuals: clearly, gamesmanship to get as many employees as possible flat four percent raises on virtually an annual basis has been in play. The Commission also wisely committed to training of supervisors in their evaluating to make sure they were as objective and fair as possible.

While the plan presently going to Jindal is good, the change he stumps for will make it even better. Combine this with previously-passed rules about force reduction procedures, and anticipated legislative changes in retirement rules from defined-benefit to mandatory defined-contribution for new entrants (see here for the problems that await for a defined-benefit system) and the beginning of the 2010-11 fiscal year will mark the most exciting time for quality improvement in the history of the state’s civil service.

These kinds of matters to the larger public aren’t exciting and flashy as other policy measures, but they promise noticeable performance improvements to citizens and savings to taxpayers. The SCSC and the department it oversees have been on the right track this year and let’s hope this continues going forward.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Jindal is upset because he does not want ANY classified employees to receive ANY increase, merit-based or not. However, he has increased the higher-paid unclassified poliitical appointee jobs while decreasing protected classified positions, costing the State more money in salaries, but no one seems to complain about that. Why don't you check into that, Professor?