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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; ans AcqDemo's ability to support the acquisition mission.

This executive summary presents the key findings of this research. A more detailed account of the research methods and findings can be found in 2016 Assessment of the Civilian Acquisition Workforce Personnel Demonstration Project, by Jennifer Lamping Lewis, Laura Werber, Cameron Wright, Irina Danescu, Jessica Hwang, and Lindsay Daugherty, RR-1783-OSD, 2017.

Key Findings

  • Salary levels, salary growth, and retention outcomes in the Department of Defense Civilian Acquisition Workforce Personnel Demonstration Project (AcqDemo) were similar to those in the General Schedule (GS) system, after controlling for an array of other factors.
  • AcqDemo employees earned higher starting salaries but were promoted less frequently relative to equivalent employees in the GS system.
  • 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.
  • However, less than half of AcqDemo survey respondents perceived a link between contribution and compensation. Possible explanations include a perceived lack of transparency regarding how performance ratings are calculated and translated to pay; difficulty measuring employee performance objectively and inclusively, particularly for managers; and a narrowing spread in salaries resulting from pay caps and AcqDemo business practices.
  • A majority of AcqDemo survey respondents expressed concerns about the transparency and fairness of various aspects of the appraisal and compensation system.