The downside of high performance?

In Govexec:

The number of senior executives receiving the nation’s highest award for civil service has continued to shrink over the past few years — and so does the publicity from the White House touting the winners.

There’s a perception among some senior executives and the association representing them that the Obama White House has pressured federal agencies to avoid drawing attention to the annual winners of the Presidential Rank Awards — and the hefty bonuses they receive — because of the sensitive fiscal and political climate.

“There’s a concern that [the administration] might — this is my impression — that they would be in a position of having to defend why these people received such an enormous [amount] of money,” said Carol Bonosaro, president of the Senior Executives Association, during a recent interview with Government Executive.

And that bonus?

Distinguished Rank honorees receive a monetary award equivalent to 35 percent of their annual basic pay, and Meritorious Rank recipients receive 20 percent of their rate of annual basic pay.

How to improve survey response rates

For the FEVS, at least:

1. Your voice is important. The FEVS asks for your opinion on a wide range of topics, such as training, job satisfaction, performance appraisals, work-life programs, and management. Agencies use this valuable information to improve their organizations.

2. Your responses are confidential. Individual FEVS responses cannot be linked back to you. No one — not even your supervisor — will know how you answered. The reason we insist on confidentiality is we need your candid and unfiltered feedback.

3. Your participation matters. The FEVS is sent to a sample of employees, so not every federal worker gets a survey every year. If you received one this year, your participation is important and will serve as a crucial voice for employees like you. If you’re not sure if you received an invitation, look for an email from OPM.

4. You will have an impact. Leaders across the government pay close attention to FEVS scores. Thanks to new tools from the Office of Personnel Management, including an online tool called, agency leaders can use the results in new and significant ways. With, they can slice and dice the data in ways that give them insights at every level of the agency, even individual offices.

The MPSA’s new Kenneth J. Meier Award

The Midwest Political Science Association has established a new annual award recognizing outstanding scholarship in politics, public administration, and public policy in honor of Kenneth J. Meier, Distinguished Professor and Director of the Project for Equity, Representation & Governance at Texas A&M University. The inaugural award will recognize the best paper in bureaucratic politics, public administration, or public policy presented at the 2015 MPSA conference and is scheduled to be presented at MPSA’s 74th annual conference in April 2016 at the Palmer House in Chicago.

From MPSA.

Production functions for OIGs

In 2013, inspectors general from 78 government offices processed a stunning 619,460 complaints that came in through their hotlines.

That’s 1,697 per day.

In the same year, IGs claimed 19,000 indictments or criminal investigations, “successful” prosecutions, and suspensions or debarments, according to the annual report by the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency (CIGIE).

Interestingly, in 1995, there were considerably fewer take-downs. CIGIE’s report for that year indicates there were 8,273 “successful” prosecutions, debarments, exclusions and suspensions of people or firms doing business with the federal government.


How the CBO gained its reputation

From Alice Rivlin:

The most important decision in CBO’s formative days, Rivlin told the hundreds of staff and alumni at the Capitol Visitor Center, “was not to make recommendations in reports. That allowed me and my successors to defend the CBO for 40 years” against attacks from lawmakers upset with a score on the cost of a bill and a “skeptical press that did its best to trip us up.”

There’s more in GovExec.

Pay-for-Performance and the Senior Executive Service

GAO compared SES members’ performance awards against their evaluation ratings in the 24 largest agencies. It found nearly all SES members rated better than average, a statistic improbability anywhere but Lake Wobegone ofA Prairie Home Companion fame. About 85 percent of SES members scored either a 5, the highest rating, or a 4, the second highest, for fiscal 2010-2013.

Supervisors feel pressure to rate executives highly because the ratings become criteria for myriad compensation decisions, GAO said.

But budget constraints and recent guidance from the Office of Management and Budget has kept the total amount of performance awards down and erased distinctions among SES. Executives with ratings of 5 earned $4,991 more than those with ratings of 4 in fiscal 2010. By 2013, the difference had shrunk to just $2,604. Between those in the middle of the pack, the difference is even smaller. Executives with ratings of 4 took home $690 more than those with ratings of 3.

As the difference lessens, the perception that awards are not directly linked to performance grows, GAO noted. Yet an executive at rating level 5 is much more likely to receive a performance award than one rated at 4 or below.

More at Federal News Radio.

An accessible introduction to the problem of multiple testing

From Cam Harvey, with applications to portfolio management:

We provide some new tools to evaluate trading strategies. When it is known that many strategies and combinations of strategies have been tried, we need to adjust our evaluation method for these multiple tests. Sharpe Ratios and other statistics will be overstated. Our methods are simple to implement and allow for the real-time evaluation of candidate trading strategies.

Recommended. This is a huge issue in classifying causal mechanisms in medicine, evidence-based policymaking and management, etc.

On one hand, any given “experiment” (read: regression result) may be faulty (sample-dependent); on the other hand, if we have multiple tests, we need good ways of aggregating those results.

If we have this problem with inference in the field of finance (with the amount of time, attention, and cash expended to figure out the best trading strategies), then what hope is there in evidence-based policymaking (where, in most cases, we have – at best – one experiment)?

Statistics, strong statements, and evidence-based policy

From a discussion of the new dietary guidelines:

Instead of accepting that this evidence was inadequate to give sound advice, strong-willed scientists overstated the significance of their studies.

Much of the epidemiological data underpinning the government’s dietary advice comes from studies run by Harvard’s school of public health. In 2011, directors of the National Institute of Statistical Sciences analyzed many of Harvard’s most important findings and found that they could not be reproduced in clinical trials.

Source: NYT.