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Research Questions

  1. What workforce does AcqDemo include?
  2. What flexibilities does AcqDemo use to appoint individuals to the acquisition workforce, and do those appointments both rely on competitive procedures and recognize veterans' preferences?
  3. What flexibilities does AcqDemo use to develop a performance appraisal system that recognizes excellence and offers opportunities for improvement?
  4. What steps does AcqDemo take to ensure that it is fair and transparent for all employees?
  5. How does AcqDemo enable DoD to better meet mission needs?
  6. How are AcqDemo's flexibilities used, and what barriers have been encountered that inhibit their use?
  7. Does AcqDemo have processes for ensuring ongoing performance feedback and dialogue throughout the performance appraisal period and setting timetables for performance appraisals?
  8. What impact does AcqDemo have on career progression?
  9. How appropriate is AcqDemo appropriate in light of the complexities of the workforce affected?
  10. How sufficient is AcqDemo in terms of providing protections for diversity in promotion and retention of personnel?
  11. How adequate are the training, policy guidelines, and other preparations provided by AcqDemo?
  12. Does AcqDemo include a process for ensuring employee involvement in the development and improvement of the project?

Abstract

The vast majority of U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) and federal civilian employees work on the General Schedule (GS) personnel system. However, some concerns have been raised about the GS system, including perceptions that poorly performing employees are tolerated for extended periods of time and that monetary rewards are not directly linked to performance. In response to concerns of this nature, Congress has authorized some demonstration projects, in which additional flexibilities are provided, intending to produce better outcomes than if the employees were in the GS system. One such demonstration project, the DoD Civilian Acquisition Workforce Personnel Demonstration Project (AcqDemo), is the subject of this report. Implemented on February 7, 1999, AcqDemo is an effort to reengineer the civilian personnel system to meet the needs of the acquisition workforce and to facilitate the fulfillment of the DoD acquisition mission. Congress required an independent assessment of the program against 12 criteria by September 30, 2012. This report is that legislatively mandated assessment.

Key Findings

After Almost Quintupling in Size in 2011, Available Evidence Suggests That AcqDemo Is Faring Well in Terms of Many of the Criteria Specified in the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2011

  • AcqDemo clearly adheres to DoD policies with respect to veterans' preferences.
  • The AcqDemo Program Office has embarked on an extensive training program.
  • Employee feedback has been solicited through multiple mechanisms.
  • Interview and survey data suggest that many aspects of AcqDemo are positively perceived.
  • However, the perceived complexity of AcqDemo's personnel evaluation system has been a longstanding concern, though these concerns are partially mitigated by the fact that the AcqDemo workforce is generally well educated and sophisticated.
  • Barriers that affect the ability for employees to be rewarded for their contributions, such as constrained budgets and pay band ceilings, present challenges.

Recommendations

  • The congressional mandate to reevaluate AcqDemo in 2016 offers an opportunity to address limitations encountered in this study.
  • The AcqDemo Program Office should facilitate collection and analysis of objective data and interviews and clarify the concept of "mission needs."
  • In the future, it may be more productive to administer the survey to a stratified random sample of AcqDemo's employees rather than seek responses from the entire population. In addition, as AcqDemo expands to include employees from all the military services and additional DoD components, the comparison group should be revised to ensure that it serves as a useful referent group. Lastly, the survey could be expanded to include items that have been scientifically validated and used across multiple workplaces.
  • Although a randomized control trial is less feasible than other options in this context, other well-regarded evaluation methods could be employed in the future. For example, a pretest-posttest comparison-group strategy could be used with new organizations entering AcqDemo. In addition, by including a comparison group in its 2012 survey, the AcqDemo Program Office has already made use of another recommended technique, a nonequivalent group design. Finally, future evaluations could incorporate propensity score matching to create a comparison group for career progression-focused analysis.
  • The criteria by which the AcqDemo program is evaluated should be reassessed for 2016. The evaluation criteria should include both process and outcome measures for each of AcqDemo's key elements.

Table of Contents

  • Chapter One

    Introduction

  • Chapter Two

    Assessment Criterion A: Workforce Description

  • Chapter Three

    Assessment Criterion B: Explanation of Appointment Flexibilities

  • Chapter Four

    Assessment Criterion C: Explanation of Performance Appraisal Flexibilities

  • Chapter Five

    Assessment Criterion D: Steps to Ensure Fairness and Transparency

  • Chapter Six

    Assessment Criterion E: How the Project Helps Organizations Better Meet Mission Needs

  • Chapter Seven

    Assessment Criterion F: Application of Flexibilities and Barriers to Their Use

  • Chapter Eight

    Assessment Criterion G: Process for Performance Appraisal Feedback

  • Chapter Nine

    Assessment Criterion H: Impact on Career Progression

  • Chapter Ten

    Assessment Criterion I: Appropriateness in Light of Complexities of the Workforce

  • Chapter Eleven

    Assessment Criterion J: Sufficient Protections for Diversity in Promotion and Retention

  • Chapter Twelve

    Assessment Criterion K: Adequacy of Training

  • Chapter Thirteen

    Assessment Criterion L: Process for Ensuring Employee Involvement

  • Chapter Fourteen

    Conclusions

  • Appendix A

    Analysis of Survey Data

  • Appendix B

    A Propensity Score Matching Exploration of AcqDemo's Impact on Retention and Compensation of Unionized Employees

The research described in this report was prepared for the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD). The research was conducted within the RAND National Defense Research Institute, a federally funded research and development center sponsored by OSD, the Joint Staff, the Unified Combatant Commands, the Navy, the Marine Corps, the defense agencies, and the defense Intelligence Community.

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