Tighter federal budgets and the threat of wholesale layoffs and reductions in force in many agencies have meant that fewer federal employees are receiving step raises within their grade level. Speculation suggest that managers may be planning on cutting low performing employees, and that denial of step raises is often the first move by a manager to fire an employee.
Last year the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) reported an increase in appeals over denial of step-raises and performance actions. With more budget cuts caused by sequestration, managers may be forced to cut the departments staffing. While it would make sense to expect that if they have to reduce their staffing, they would eliminate their lowest performing employees first, the question of performance may be subjective enough to foster contentious appeals to the MSPB over terminations.
Ideally, a manager understands the work of their department or division. One could even hope that they may be subject matter experts on the work that their employees perform. This enables them to serve both as a resource to assist their employees in improving their work product and allows them to properly assess that work during reviews.
This places mangers in a good position to determine which employees are most expendable when reductions in force become unavoidable. However, we all know the process is fraught with human frailty, venality and in some cases outright mendacity. The best employees often are not promoted to management. Managers can often play favorites, subtlety favoring certain employees repeatedly, falsely inflating their work histories and performance ratings.
When layoffs occur, much of this may come to into view during appeals, as employees are forced to fight to save their job. It is likely that if sequestration occurs, there will be a marked increased in litigation involving the resulting layoffs triggered by any reduction in force.
Source: Federal Times, "More bosses take aim at poor performers," Stephen Losey, February 17, 2013