Local Politics

Performance review system for state workers criticized

Posted August 19, 2010 3:10 p.m. EDT
Updated August 19, 2010 6:54 p.m. EDT

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— Some state agencies have improperly managed employee reviews, leading to "inflated" ratings of their work and a disconnect between the quality of their work and any raises they receive, according to an audit released Thursday.

The audit of the Performance Management System in the Correction, Transportation and Health and Human Services departments showed that 81 percent of employees received ratings of outstanding or very good in their 2008 reviews, while less than 1 percent failed to meet expectations.

State Auditor Beth Wood said about 30 percent of state workers exceed expectations in other states.

Those employees would have received raises because of their high marks on reviews, if not for state budget cuts during the past two years.

"So the good news is we haven't given any money out to maybe anybody who shouldn't have received the raise, but at the same time, we don't have a system to provide incentive," Wood said.

Auditors said managers in the three state agencies often don't provide include tangible results by which to measure employee performance or establish plans for the workers to improve their skills and correct their deficiencies. Also, there isn't enough oversight of the system by the Office of State Personnel and lawmakers, according to auditors.

"(Lawmakers) get a report that has been saying for a number of years now that the ratings are inflated, and they haven't been reading the report," Wood said.

Because the performance evaluations weren't useful to employee growth, the auditors said, the time spent on them could be deemed a waste of thousands of hours and millions of dollars in managerial salaries.

"We found that, over these three agencies, there is probably about $6 million worth of time and effort (spent on reviews)," Wood said.

DOT Chief of State Ellis Powell said the audit reflects its old system of employee evaluation, which he said has since changed significantly.

"We have worked on it really hard in the last two years, and it's not perfect, but it's a work in progress and it's a great improvement over the former system," Powell said.

DHHS and DOC officials responded to the audit by noting that managers spent so much time in 2008 on the transition to the new Beacon payroll system, which was plagued with problems, that they didn't have time to monitor employee reviews.

"We expect our managers to evaluate their employees fairly and accurately, not for financial reward but to ensure that they are providing the best service possible to the state," DOC spokesman Keith Acree said.

The auditors recommended that lawmakers re-examine whether the review system benefits the state and consider revising or eliminating it.