Rosen column claimed government "lacks ... merit pay," omitted performance pay programs for Colorado state workers

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Criticizing service provided by the Colorado Division of Motor Vehicles, Mike Rosen asserted in his November 30 Rocky Mountain News column that government cannot be "as efficient as the private sector" because "[g]overnment lacks ... merit pay." But he did not mention that the state of Colorado offers "performance pay programs," which are detailed on the website of the Department of Personnel & Administration.

In a November 30 Rocky Mountain News column criticizing the service provided by Colorado's Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV), Mike Rosen said that he did not think that "government can ultimately be as efficient as the private sector," and supported his position by asserting that "[g]overnment lacks ... merit pay." In fact, Colorado state government employs a performance system under which departments -- including the Department of Revenue, which includes the DMV -- implement "performance pay programs" approved by the Department of Personnel & Administration (DPA). Rosen repeated the falsehood about merit pay while discussing his column during the November 30 broadcast of his Newsradio 850 KOA show.

From Mike Rosen's column "The fast lane this isn't," published November 30 in the Rocky Mountain News:

I moved to Colorado in 1971 to attend the University of Denver. I liked it so much -- the mountains, the climate, the culture, the people, the skiing, etc. -- that I've stayed ever since.

I vividly remember one of my first impressions of the state and the sharp contrast between the way things were done here as compared to my native New York City. It was my initial visit to an office of the Division of Motor Vehicles to register my Volkswagen Beetle and obtain a Colorado driver's license.

I fully expected the kind of ordeal people had grown accustomed to in New York at what was called the Motor Vehicle Bureau: a wait of several hours and abuse at the hands of indifferent (if you were lucky) or surly (if you weren't) bureaucrats. To my great surprise and joy, it wasn't anything like that here. The clerks were friendly and courteous, the process was orderly, the lines were short and moved quickly, and the whole thing was over in mere minutes.

That was then; this is now. Where have we gone wrong?

Actually, it's no secret. The road to DMV Hell in Colorado started during the economic downturn that hit the state in 2002-'03. The consequent decline in tax revenues was compounded by a double whammy with TABOR further restricting overall government spending and Amendment 23 forcing the state to spend more on K-12 education, squeezing the budgets of other state agencies and departments. Among other cutbacks, a slew of DMV offices were closed. Combine that with Colorado's growing population and you have the formula for maddening waits at the DMV, which continue to this day.

I have no illusions that government can ultimately be as efficient as the private sector. It's not its nature. Government lacks competition, profit motive (failing government programs rarely go "out of business") and merit pay. Moreover, political rewards are often different from market rewards. Politicians can be rewarded with re-election by passing out favors to some groups at the expense of others.

Contrary to Rosen's assertion that "[g]overnment lacks ... merit pay," the DPA website provides information about its "Performance System":

Performance System

The state's performance system is comprised of three components: sound performance management, pay, and dispute resolution. Best-practice performance management depends on the commitment, knowledge, training, and integrity of managers and HR professionals, and the proactive participation of all employees. Whether it's developing an individual performance plan, communicating throughout the year to develop employees' skills or to keep them informed, or making a final rating, performance pay matters.

The Consulting Services Unit provides a library of resources and tools to help employees, managers and state HR professionals better understand the performance management process. Approved departments' performance pay programs and the Performance Management and Pay System Requirements lend further guidance in understanding performance management responsibilities and the state's performance pay system.

A separate page of the DPA website provides links to "Approved Performance Pay Programs" for 18 Colorado departments of general government, nine four-year colleges and universities, 12 two-year colleges, and four entities -- such as the Colorado Community College System -- listed under the general heading of "Higher Education." Yet another page provides "performance ratings results" for the years 2003-2005, and "performance pay results" for the years 2002 and 2004.

The introduction to the Department of Revenue's performance pay program states, "The philosophy underlying the Revenue Department Plan is that employee performance salary adjustments should be based on the performance of the employee as measured in an annual performance evaluation":

This document is the Department of Revenue's (DOR) Plan for implementing the State Personnel Director's Performance Pay System. The Plan complies with rules and procedures issued by the State Personnel Director regarding performance based pay in the State Personnel System. Policy decisions regarding implementation of the Performance Pay System within the DOR are made by the Executive Council. The Executive Council is responsible for providing the leadership and support necessary for successful implementation of this program.

The contents of the DOR Plan will be disseminated to all Department of Revenue employees through the department newspaper Revenews, mandatory supervisor training, informational meetings, new employee orientation, the Human Resource home page on the DOR Intranet and other means.

The DOR Executive Council will continuously monitor the operation of Revenue's Performance Pay System (PPS) Plan. The Executive Council will review the distribution of performance ratings to insure quality and consistency of ratings throughout the department.

The philosophy underlying the Revenue Department Plan is that employee performance salary adjustments should be based on the performance of the employee as measured in an annual performance evaluation. We are committed to utilizing the new evaluation and performance salary adjustment process to provide appropriate incentives, feedback and compensation to all DOR employees. This, in turn, will have a positive impact on the service that we provide to all of our many customers and clients. The plan will be revised periodically in order to ensure that employees within the department are being evaluated and compensated in the best manner possible. [emphasis added]

Furthermore, documents on compensation maintained by the University of Colorado at Denver and Health Sciences Center and the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs note, using the same term that Rosen used, that "[m]erit is the historical basis for all salary increases at the University of Colorado."

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