- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound and to both confront and solve problems that would baffle mere mortal men. Or women. Oh, also, be prepared to document all of the above. In the modern corporate-government world, letting the right people know what you did is as career-critical as the actual accomplishments.

In a growing number of federal agencies, performance reviews, which was often run-of-the-mill actions are now a very big deal. By law. And this is performance review time in many places. It’s the time to tell the boss what you did, and how your office, agency or the world is a better place for it. Money - as in the size of your pay raise, bonus or eventual pension - is riding on the self-assessments.

Between now and the end of the year is when people get the chance to show the boss, in writing, what they’ve done. In turn, the boss will use it to spell out to his bosses who gets what share of the January federal pay-raise pool cash.

An accurate descriptive and believable self-assessment can mean a bigger January pay raise than the percentage increase amount Congress and the White House have yet to set. Doing it right in agencies that have adopted various performance-based pay plans can pay off in the form of a handsome bonus - or better yet, a bigger than average pay raise, which boosts the value of an individual’s life insurance package, the cash value of annual leave when the individual retires and the lifetime annuity, too. Federal retirement benefits are based on length of service and the retiree’s highest three-year-average salary.

The Defense Department has the largest performance-based personnel system in the federal government. The National Security Personnel System is the ticket to higher pay and promotions. It covers about 180,000 civilians mostly in midmanagement jobs outside of union jurisdiction. But you gotta know how to play the game.

Enter key words and phrases that experts claim are the magic terms that managers, who review individuals’ self-reporting performance forms, want to see. They are said to be eye-catching and, if used properly, can prove virtually irresistible to scorekeepers.

Kathryn Troutman makes a living telling feds how to put their best foot forward, whether in job applications, requests for transfer or promotion or the current hot ticket, which is individual performance reviews. Miss Troutman says most Defense Department employees will likely wind up rated at the 3 level, which is also called Role Model or Valued Employee. Those who can document even greater and more important accomplishments might wind up at the 5 level, which makes one an Enhanced Employee.

Employees are placed in pay bands, which have replaced the old GS Grade designations. What follows are the magic buzzwords for a Professional/Analytic Employee in Pay Band 2. This is made up of workers in the old GS 9 through GS 12 grades.

Key words that folks aspiring to 3-level ratings should stuff the following terms into their this-is-what-I-did-this-year statements. They include but are not limited to:

cAchieved the stated objectives.

cAnticipated and overcame obstacles.

cResults were technically sound, documented and met standards.

Those going for the coveted Enhanced Employee rating should pepper their self-reporting report cards with:

cContributed results beyond expectation.

cResults were far superior in quality, quantity and impact on objectives.

And, if you can cast false modesty to the winds, let the chief know that you “exhibited the highest standards of professionalism.” If you got it, and you did it, flaunt it.

For feds in some agencies, this is their first time at self-assessment reporting. For others, in Defense, this is the second year. Reports on the results are mixed. Defense said many employees did better (in terms of pay raises) under the last review than feds in agencies that don’t use pay-for-performance guidelines. Some employees said that isn’t true (or at least wasn’t for them) or that bonuses were substituted for pay raises, which are a major factor in determining an individual’s final annuity.

Miss Troutman’s book, “Writing Your NSPS Self-Assessment” from the Resume Place Inc., also has an online version (www.resume-place.com) for overseas feds who can’t wait for delivery of a book.

6.2%, honest!

Half a dozen readers took issue with last week’s report that federal retirement benefits are on track to go up 6.2 percent in January. After years of low inflation, the retirees - and this includes people who get Social Security and military retirement benefits - have grown accustomed to raises in the 3 percent range.

But the 6.2 percent is accurate, based on the Consumer Price Index (CPI) for the month of July. Federal retirement benefits - and Social Security payments - increase automatically to keep pace with inflation. The rate of inflation is measured by the CPI from the third quarter of the current year (July, August, September) over the third quarter of the previous year. So far, it’s up 6.2 percent.

If living costs continue to go up for the month of August or September, the January cost of living adjustment (COLA) for retirees will be even higher than 6.2 percent. If living costs drop, the COLA will reflect it. But even a drastic drop in the CPI - to deflation levels - would not mean a reduction in current benefits retirees receive. The COLA escalator only goes in one direction: up.

Mike Causey, senior editor at Federal News Radio AM 1050, can be reached at 202/895-5132 or [email protected] radio.com.

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