By Deborah Hopkins, June 17, 2020

There are a few items in President Trump’s May 2018 Civil Service Executive Order Trifecta with which I don’t necessarily agree. But there are a lot of provisions that actually mirror what FELTG has been teaching for two decades. Among the items that I really like is the directive that employees with performance problems (those performing at an unacceptable level on any critical element) should be given a final opportunity to demonstrate acceptable performance, not to exceed 30 days.

After this EO came out, some agencies revamped their performance policies and changed the language from the existing focus on performance improvement by utilizing a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP) to some other moniker that gives the employee a 30-day opportunity to demonstrate he can perform their job at an acceptable level. The demonstration emphasis more accurately mirrors the language of the statute found at 5 USC § 4302(c)(6). An opportunity to improve could go on for quite a long time, perhaps interminably; an opportunity to demonstrate whether you can do the job you were hired to do shouldn’t take more than three or four weeks.

For what it’s worth, “Acceptable” performance is whatever the line is above Unacceptable – so if your agency has a 5-level rating system then Marginal/Minima/Partial standards count as acceptable performance. That’s right, be minimal is the goal. [“Hey, problem employee: We at the agency would consider it acceptable if you would bring your performance up to minimal. If you do that, you get to keep your job forever.” What a target, huh?]

But, I digress.

Back to poor performance. Articulating the acronym “PIP” is easy. It rolls off the tongue and almost everyone knows what it means. But I am trying to break my PIP habit (two years later), and call it something more appropriate. In the textbook UnCivil Servant: Holding Employees Accountable for Performance and Conduct (now in its 5th Edition), Bill Wiley and I call this 30-day opportunity a Performance Demonstration Period, or DP.  But in my travels across the country to agencies near and far (before the pandemic, when I was on a plane almost every week), and my more recent time in front of a virtual training screen, I have learned there are now several permutations to what Federal employees call this DP.

Demonstration Opportunity Period

  • Acronym: DOP
  • Agency using it: USDA

Opportunity to Demonstrate Acceptable Performance

  • Acronym: ODAP
  • Agency using it: HHS

Notice of Opportunity to Demonstrate Acceptable Performance

  • Acronym: NODAP (As far as I can tell, NODAP is an informal acronym and does not exist in writing in the agency’s policy, but it makes sense to me.)
  • Agency using it: DOI

Opportunity Period

  • Acronym: OP
  • Agency using it: OPM. This is unofficial and hasn’t been verified by the powers-that-be, but we have heard rumors from students that the very agency which gave us the term “PIP” now has adopted a more correct moniker.

Opportunity to Improve Performance

  • Acronym: OIP
  • Agency using it: HUD. As far as we at FELTG can tell, this policy has not been changed to reflect the language of “opportunity to demonstrate” rather than the “improve” language its name reflects.

Performance Improvement Plan

  • Acronym: PIP
  • Agencies (still) using it: Commerce, State, DOD, DHS. It’s interesting. If what I am seeing on these agencies’ websites, where the policies are posted, are up-to-date, a number of agencies – headed up by President Trump appointees – seem to be ignoring the EO’s mandate to move away from the improve/PIP mentality.

So, whether you DOP, OP, POP, ODAP, NODAP, OIP, DP, or PIP, remember the purpose is to allow the employee an opportunity to demonstrate acceptable performance per 5 USC §4302(c)(6), and not to allow the employee a perpetual opportunity to incrementally get better. [email protected]

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