Dear Bureaucrat, We’re trapped under the salary cap!

Dear Bureaucrat,

Federal employees at the GS-15 grade aren’t paid for step increases they have earned. This is becoming an increasing problem in the DC area as more and more of our top performing people are ineligible for an increase, year after year.  Though I see the problem mentioned, I have not seen any efforts to either remove that statutory cap, or raise the Exec Schedule, thereby giving capped 15s some breathing room.  With a staff of high performing 15s, it is harder and harder to reward them with “the gift that keeps on giving” that is a pay increase.  Any news or intel on this front?


Dear Capped,

Some background so readers can follow the story: The question from Capped is about a law that says no salary for General Schedule employees can be higher than the salary for Assistant Secretaries on the separate pay scale for Presidential appointees. If the government’s formula for what should be paid to a certain GS grade, step and locality comes to more than the Assistant Secretary salary, then the employee gets the capped amount rather than what the government’s formula says she is entitled to. In the Washington, DC area, that works out to the top four steps of GS-15 all being paid the same capped amount… Read the answer in Federal Times 

Dear Bureaucrat, Will a new boss let me improve things?

Dear Bureaucrat,

My boss is always telling us about his core values for our office, and how one of them is innovation. But when I want to improve how we do something, he doesn’t support me. In fact he has told me not to pursue a couple of ideas because he said he has long term plans to solve those problems. (He’s not specific about the plans.) This is one reason I’m looking to switch jobs. How can I tell whether another boss would be more supportive? I can’t just ask, “Do you support innovation?” because my current boss would say yes to that, and it’s not true.

Hedy Lamarr

Dear Hedy,

Sounds like your supervisor does not want your improvements stealing attention from his rhetoric. Research provides a clue on how to pick a next boss who does not just talk the talk…Read the rest in Federal Times:

Dear Bureaucrat, My subordinates are revolting!

Dear Bureaucrat,

Two of the people I supervise seem to think they can pick and choose which decisions of our leadership they will carry out. They have argued with me a few times that work we were instructed to do was bad policy or bad management. I explained that those decisions are above my pay grade and above theirs. Sometimes it’s pretty clear they are slow-walking particular assignments they don’t agree with. What can I do as a leader to get them with the program?

Not William Bligh

Dear Not William,

Congratulations! Sounds like you have a couple of engaged employees who care about your agency’s mission. They just disagree that all the decisions from above serve that mission. You need to move beyond the “above our pay grade” argument to get their cooperation.New research by Hollibaugh, Miles and Newswander measured how powerful different factors are in government workers’ decisions to obey or rebel. They… Read the rest in Federal Times:

Dear Bureaucrat, I’m frozen on the salary ladder!

Dear Bureaucrat,

I was hired as a GS-11 on a salary ladder to GS-13.  I’m currently a GS-12, and just finished my second annual performance review, with my two-year anniversary coming up in a couple months.  Even though I was rated “Exceed Expectations” both overall and in all performance categories except one (where I was rated “Outstanding”), my supervisor told me that I’m not performing at the GS-13 level, so I shouldn’t expect a promotion at the two-year anniversary.  How normal is this fact pattern, how bothered should I be, and how should I think about my next steps?

What Next?

Dear What,

Federal agencies vary in how they handle career ladder promotions. It may not be unusual in your agency to deny promotion when you first reach the required time in grade, but it is a bad sign. Do not assume everything will work out. Take action.

STEP 1. …Read the rest in Federal Times

Dear Bureaucrat, Where is my tribe?

Dear Bureaucrat,

I know there’s somebody in every agency doing the exact same work I do, but I don’t know them. I’d like to see if other people have better ways to do the job, and I wouldn’t mind sharing (showing off) some solutions I’ve worked out. I found an online group for people who do the same work as me, but there hadn’t been any postings to it for years, and when I posted introducing myself nobody replied. I could put in the effort to try to find people doing my job in other agencies and build community, but I don’t want to waste my time if people aren’t going to participate. What makes a professional community work?

Vox Clamantis in Deserto

Dear Vox,

The abandoned online group you found is not unusual. There is lots of free and easy-to-use technology for groups, ranging from old fashioned email lists to social media. But if members don’t post questions and information that others are interested in, then the community fades into inactivity. Go ahead with your impulse to revive your professional community. There are some research findings that can help you make it a success.

Binz-Scharf, Lazer and Mergel examined why public sector workers do or don’t participate in a network of practice. They found that… Read the rest in Federal Times

Dear Bureaucrat, How can I be part of real innovation?

Dear Bureaucrat,

I thought I was in a great innovation project, but then it fell apart. Three years ago, our agency head announced we were going to be a data-driven organization. I became my branch’s representative to the task force she created to make that happen. It was exciting. We held workshops with all parts of the agency, came up with as-is and to-be descriptions of how we use data, and gave a briefing for the agency head. She said we had done great work. But after that, when we wanted to move forward and implement parts of the to-be vision, we couldn’t get management to focus on it. Now we have a new agency head, and his chief of staff told us they are working on other priorities. I feel like all my effort was wasted. How can I tell whether an innovation project will really get results, before I invest my time and enthusiasm in it?

Tom Edison

Dear Tom,

You were part of “innovation theater,” where officials encourage employees to go through the motions of an innovation process… Read the rest in Federal Times

A lawyer responds: “it sets my spidey-sense tingling”

Thank you so much for your thought-provoking piece of 2 October [Dear Bureaucrat, How can I win arguments against lawyers?]. I saw much to remind me of the need for “judicial restraint” and active listening when counseling clients.

If I may take exception to one small point – lawyers recoil when a client argues, “But we have always done it that way,” or the milder version, “No one complained last time.” Indeed, even if the individual advancing this (specious) argument is an attorney, it sets my spidey-sense tingling.

If I must say “what the law is,” I must acknowledge the fluid (i.e. living) nature of jurisprudence and law. That is, what may have passed muster on previous occasions may not this time. I also can affirm that lawyers, like everyone else, are willing to accept certain levels of risky behavior. We want to align with our client in some instances and other times we steer him or her away from even the perception of malfeasance.

Thank you once again for your column. I frequently share it with colleagues and clients alike.

Elliot S. Avidan

Dear Bureaucrat, How can I win arguments against lawyers?

Dear Bureaucrat,

Lots of the people I deal with at work are lawyers. I’m not; I have an MPA and experience in government. But whenever there’s an issue about how to handle something in our agency, the bosses always side with the lawyers. It’s like they see the lawyers as adult supervision for the rest of us. How can I convince the bosses what’s best for our mission when the lawyer at the table is raising trivial objections?

Dick from Blackheath

Dear Dick,

The boss has three reasons to side with the lawyer. First…[Read the rest in Federal Times ]

Dear Bureaucrat, Do I have to do work I wasn’t hired for?

Dear Bureaucrat,

I am a civilian employee of the Department of the Army, in the electronics shop as an electronic mechanic. When we changed commands, my mission went away. Our command says we no longer work on that equipment. I now essentially have no mission, no job. However my leadership wants to be able to move me around and work in shops that need help. For instance, they would like me to work in a small arms shop for the next year to cover for a mission.

Do I have any rights to refuse them pushing me into work that is not on my position description and not related to what I was hired for? I don’t even care if they decide to get rid of me as long as they have to pay me severance (which I’m eligible for with 16 years service). I also have concerns over the repetitive work in small arms as I am a disabled veteran.

What rights do I have to refuse the work they want to assign me that is completely outside of my position?

Unwilling Utility Infielder

Dear Infielder,

I suggest you talk to your union. In federal workplaces, unions represent all workers who are eligible to join, whether or not you are a union member. They might have some inside information on what your command is willing to do. As to what an employee’s rights are, I asked expert federal employment lawyer Elaine L. Fitch from Kalijarvi, Chuzi, Newman & Fitch, P.C. She gave the following as education for all of us, not legal advice on a particular matter:
[Read the rest at ]

Dear Bureaucrat, Is a government job worth getting?

Dear Bureaucrat,

Is it worth the hassle to apply for government jobs? I used to think working in government would be a way to do good in the world, have financial security, and get ahead. But the news is full of government doing terrible things, and people quitting so they won’t have to do terrible things, or being reassigned to force them to quit. I see people on social media bragging about how exciting their government jobs are, but nobody I know personally feels that way. Should I even bother trying to get in?

Not Winston Smith

Dear Not Winston,

There is an old image of what a government career can be: join an agency whose mission you believe in, get trained and advance within the agency, maybe to a top job, and retire with a pension and pride in a job well done. Even in the heyday of the civil service, most careers fell short of that ideal. But now it is even less realistic.

Most government work is now done by people who [Read the rest in Federal Times: ]