Auditors question merit pay plan for state employees

There is major disagreement between state auditors and top Human Resources Department officials about Gov. Bill Haslam’s plan to eliminate across-the-board pay raises for 40,000-plus executive-branch employees and replace them with a merit-pay system, reports Andy Sher.

A new performance audit by Comptroller Justin Wilson’s office questions whether enough managers and supervisors were adequately trained to ensure the new standards, employee performance plans and evaluations work objectively and fairly as promised.

Auditors also warned that “a number of weaknesses in the performance management model could affect the objectiveness and fairness of the process.”

Human Resources Commissioner Rebecca Hunter and department officials rejected many of the findings. A former Hamilton County government personnel chief, Hunter said auditors’ concerns about training are misplaced.

“We feel very confident that our learning initiatives are competent and effective,” Hunter told a joint House and Senate Government Operations Subcommittee during a Dec. 16 hearing on the audit.

Hunter later added, “I think our biggest challenge here was the timing of the audit was in the middle of our efforts to make the process better.”

…Pay for performance is a key provision in Haslam’s 2012 landmark Tennessee Excellence, Accountability, and Management (TEAM) Act.

TEAM rewrote decades-old civil service laws to promote Haslam’s vision of a better-trained, better-managed and high-performing workforce. The act rewards those who do well under a five-tier evaluation system, and makes it easier to fire poor performers.

Hunter and her top deputies describe a “massive culture change” now taking effect after more than three years of hard work. The audit lays out the sometimes painful details of significant challenges faced by the Human Resources officials who spearheaded training for managers and supervisors across 33 executive departments and agencies.

Among them was having only 14 facilitators in the department’s Strategic Learning Solutions Division tasked with training 8,500 executive branch managers and supervisors by July 31, 2015, as “raters” for the new process, auditors said in one finding.

Note: The full audit report is HERE.