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Research Questions

  1. What are the characteristics of the AcqDemo workforce and how do they compare with the characteristics of DoD civilian employees in the GS system?
  2. What appointment flexibilities does AcqDemo offer to make DoD organizations more agile and better able to compete for talented personnel?
  3. What are the unique features of AcqDemo's appraisal system and what is the process by which performance is translated to compensation actions?
  4. What steps has AcqDemo taken to ensure the system is fair and transparent for all employees?
  5. How do the compensation, promotion, and retention outcomes of AcqDemo employees compare with those of equivalent GS employees?

In August 2015, René Thomas-Rizzo, director, Human Capital Initiatives, Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics, asked the RAND Corporation to undertake a study to accomplish the fiscal year (FY) 2016 assessment of the Civilian Acquisition Workforce Personnel Demonstration Project (AcqDemo) mandated in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) of FY 2011. AcqDemo aims to provide a system that retains, recognizes, and rewards employees for their contributions and supports their personal and professional development. The assessment used multiple data sources to evaluate how well AcqDemo has performed with respect to these goals. The assessment directly addresses the original 12 criteria enumerated in the NDAA, as well as five new criteria specified by the AcqDemo Program Office. These criteria call for a look at the following: AcqDemo's key features pertaining to hiring, appointments, and performance appraisal; the adequacy of its guidance, protections for diversity, efforts to ensure fairness and transparency, and means used to involve employees in improving AcqDemo; AcqDemo's impact on career outcomes, such as compensation, promotion, and retention, particularly with respect to similar outcomes for the General Schedule workforce; AcqDemo's ability to support the acquisition mission. The RAND team found that some aspects of AcqDemo are performing well, while others leave room for improvement.

Key Findings

Aspects of AcqDemo That Are Performing Well

  • Salary levels, salary growth, and retention outcomes in AcqDemo were similar to those in the GS system, after controlling for an array of factors.
  • The career outcomes of unionized employees in AcqDemo were similar to those of comparable unionized employees in the GS system. Within AcqDemo, unionized employees fared better than their nonunionized counterparts with respect to salary growth, promotion, and retention.
  • Within AcqDemo, higher levels of contribution to the organizational mission were associated with higher salaries, more-rapid salary growth, more promotions, and a greater likelihood of retention.
  • The majority of AcqDemo survey respondents expressed positive sentiments regarding their communication with their supervisors and the levels of trust and confidence between supervisors and subordinates.

Aspects of AcqDemo That Leave Room for Improvement

  • AcqDemo employees earned higher starting salaries and were promoted less frequently relative to equivalent employees in the GS system.
  • Less than half of AcqDemo survey respondents perceived a link between contribution to the organizational mission and compensation. Possible explanations include a perceived lack of transparency regarding how performance ratings are calculated and translated to pay; difficulty in measuring employee performance objectively and inclusively; and a narrowing spread in salaries resulting from pay caps and AcqDemo business practices.
  • AcqDemo survey respondents expressed concerns about the transparency and fairness of various aspects of the appraisal and compensation system.
  • Both subject-matter experts and AcqDemo survey respondents expressed concerns about the time, effort, and administrative burden associated with implementing AcqDemo's appraisal flexibilities.

This research was sponsored by Human Capital Initiatives, OUSD for AT&L, and conducted within the Forces and Resources Policy Center of the RAND National Defense Research Institute, a federally funded research and development center sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff, the Unified Combatant Commands, the Navy, the Marine Corps, the defense agencies, and the defense Intelligence Community.

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