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The Pentagon has changed how it will lay off civilian workers

Performance will be the primary factor in the future if the Defense Department has to resort to a civilian reduction in force, DoD officials said today.


The department revamped the rules for the reduction-in-force process as a result of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2016.

That law requires the department to establish procedures to provide that, in any reduction in force of civilian positions in the competitive or excepted service, the determination of which employees shall be separated from employment shall be made primarily on basis of performance.

(from left) Officers Jacob Hughett and Adam Cruea, both with the 88th Security Forces Squadron, stand ready to answer any emergency or call for help, at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Sept. 12, 2016. Both officers work as GS level employees and are part of a civilian contingent within the 88th SFS. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Al Bright)

A reduction in force, or RIF, as it is known, is the term used when the government lays off employees. The RIF procedures determine whether an employee keeps his or her present position, whether the employee has a right to a different position or whether the employee must be let go.

In the past, tenure was the primary factor when making RIF calculations. Now, an employee's performance rating of record will carry the greatest weight followed by tenure group, performance average score, veterans' preference and DoD service computation date-RIF.

"The DoD civilian workforce is one of the department's most important assets," said Julie Blanks, acting assistant secretary of defense for civilian personnel policy. "However, there are times when the department must make difficult decisions that impact our civilians, and in doing so, it is imperative these decisions result in our continued ability to seamlessly execute our national security mission. When circumstances necessitate a RIF, the department must ensure we are retaining our highest performing employees."

The changes will apply to almost all of DoD's 750,000 civilian employees. This change in the RIF process only applies to DoD. The government-wide provisions that rank four retention factors by tenure of employment; veterans' preference; length of service; and performance remain in place for other federal agencies.

(U.S. Navy photo by Mark Burrell)

Under the new system, if an agency is forced to employ a RIF, employees will be placed on a retention register based on periods of assessed performance of 12 months or more or less than 12 months. The idea is to give an equitable comparison for employees whose performance has been assessed over a comparable period of time.

The first retention factor is rating of record. The rating of record is the average drawn from the two most recent performance appraisals received by the employee within the four-year period preceding the cutoff date for the RIF.

The second factor is tenure group. There are three tenure groups, with group III being temporary or term employees, these employees will be ranked at the bottom of the retention register below groups I and II.

Tenure group I and II employees are those serving on permanent appointments. Tenure group I includes employees who are not on probation and whose appointments are not career-conditional.

Tenure group II employees are those hired into permanent appointments in a career-conditional or probationary status. In general, tenure group II employees must have three years of creditable service and meet all other stated conditions of their probationary period in order to attain Tenure group I status. Tenure group I will be ranked above employees in tenure group II within each rating of record group.

The third factor is an employee's average score. In general, an employee's average score for one performance appraisal is derived by dividing the sum of the employee's performance element ratings by the number of performance elements. For purposes of RIF, average score is the average of the average scores drawn from the two most recent performance appraisals received by the employee within the four year period preceding the "cutoff date" for the RIF.

Under new rules, the Pentagon will evaluate job performance first before letting civilian employees go as part of any downsizing. (DoD photo)

Veterans' preference is the fourth factor. "Veterans are a key part of the civilian workforce, representing a highly skilled, extremely well-qualified cadre of employees," Blanks said. "The department firmly believes that highly performing veterans in the civilian workforce will not be disadvantaged by the new RIF policy."

The final factor is the DoD service computation date-RIF, with those serving the longest having the edge.

DoD officials stress that a RIF is always the last resort for the department. They will do everything they can to mitigate the size of reductions, including the use of voluntary early retirement authority or voluntary separation incentive payments. Agencies will also use hiring freezes, termination of temporary appointments, and any other pre-RIF placement options.

The new DoD RIF policy and procedures are consistent with the implementation of the DoD Performance Management and Appraisal Program. This program standardizes the civilian performance appraisal system throughout the department.

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