Passport Services & NFFE FL 1998

August 6, 2003

Topic: Passport Specialist 2004 Performance Standards

 

Meeting Minutes

 

Management                                                              

Gary Roach, PPT/FO (Acting Director)                      

Ryan Dooley, PPT/FO/FC                                        

Eric Botts, PPT/FO/FC (Acting Division Chief)            

Susan Moorse, Chief LMR                                          

Wendy Wheeler, PPT/SE GS-12 Supervisor                   

Karen Pizza, PPT/NPC GS-12 Supervisor

Florence Fultz, PPT/FO Director (via phone)

 

Union
Alex Allen, NFFE FL 1998 President
Colin Walle, NFFE FL 1998 Sect/Treas
Catherine Prince, NFFE FL 1998 VP
Karen Proctor-Adams, NFFE FL 1998 VP
Susan Grundmann, NFFE General Counsel

 

 

 

Outline

Introduction

Management’s Purpose

Development of Elements/Standards

Management’s Plan for Measuring Performance

Union’s Primary Goal

Union’s Proposal

 

Introduction

 

Management: Thank you for coming to Washington.  We have spent a considerable amount of time working on these new standards, which we feel will better clarify how we evaluate an individual’s work performance.  The implementation date originally was going to be August 25, 2003, (which would have been “legal” since there would have still been 120 days left in this year’s rating period), but after careful review, we decided on January 1, 2004.  Our goal is to not only standardize the performance standards, but to also standardize the methods that are used to measure employee performance against those standards.  There will be nuances in how this is done from one office to another, but GS-7’s or GS-9’s, for example, in each office will be expected to do the same things.

* See Attachment – New Performance Elements

 

Union Q: Are These Elements/Standards a “Done Deal”?

 

Union: Are these elements/standards a “done deal?”  Are you open to our input and possibly making changes to what you have proposed? 

 

Management: We invite you to share your comments on how we can implement these new standards, but the standards themselves are a “done deal.”  The substance of critical elements and performance standards are a Management Right and are not subject to negotiation.

 

Union: Even “Management Rights” are subject to impact and implementation (“I&I”) bargaining, according to the law and the contract.  Does this meeting constitute your formal notification of a change in the elements/standards that would entail possible negotiations with the Union, as required by Article 12 of the contract?

 

Management: .  Management reminded the Union that these new standards will be implemented according to Article 18 of the contract, and that the substance of critical elements and performance standards are a management right and are not subject to negotiation.  Agrees that this meeting nor any previous discussions has not yet served as official notification of these new standards.

 

Management’s Purpose

 

Management: It was clear after the last Union contract negotiations that we needed to ensure performance standards consistency throughout the system.  For example, in some offices the complex cases are sorted out, while in others they are not.  In some offices, the applicant’s response to a suspense letter is returned to the original specialist, while in other offices a rotating assignment handles those cases.  There is not much clarity in the current standards.  The new standards isolate each element so employees can be evaluated more accurately.  While not perfect, we feel that these new standards bring us closer to the goal of fairness and consistency among PPT Agencies.  It is in Management’s interest to obtain fair numbers and not unjustifiably “high” numbers: anything to the contrary would require managers to place employees on PIPs (Performance Improvement Plans) and/or take other performance-based action.

 

Importance of Numerical Production vs. Other Elements

 

Union: There has historically been more emphases placed on production than any other of the elements including fraud detection.

 

Management: We continue to emphasize quality not quantity – quantity is just one of the 5 critical elements of a Passport Specialist.

 

Union: In the past, the primary emphasis has been “all about the numbers”.  We have spoken to several managers at all grade levels who have told us privately that their primary concern is production. There are numerous GS-11s in the system who got it by making the high numbers and many others trying to get promoted who may not be where they should be in some areas such as citizenship, who feel that the numbers are all they have to worry about.

 

Management: But there are also numerous GS-9s waiting for their promotions who have met the production standard numbers but whose knowledge of citizenship is less that what it should be.

 

Union: There are GS-12s in the system who create a sense of “fear” about numbers and strictly focus on that one element.

 

Management: We (supervisors) do not just focus on the numbers.  Production is just one of 5 critical job elements.

 

Union: Word should go out to all managers/supervisors that production is just 1 of 5 critical elements.

 

Videoconference

 

Management: There will be another videoconference with the supervisors regarding the new standards.

 

Union: requests to have a representative present at all future meetings, video-conferences, and teleconferences regarding the implementation of any new standards.

 

Management: We will take that into consideration. 

 

Development of Elements/Standards

 

Test periods

 

Management: PPT Agencies were given two “test periods” to report to PPT/FO/FC average production numbers at each Passport Specialist grade level.  In an effort to ensure that the numbers were “typical,” PPT employees were NOT notified of the test periods.  The results were collected and analyzed, resulting in this final product.  The first test period took place in August 2002, and the second period took place in April 2003.  The results for the first test period were thrown out because there were not enough receipts to do the study fairly. 

 

Methodology

 

Union: Inquired how participants for the test were chosen.  Concerned that management had chosen only the high producers for the test.

 

Management: Our objective was to obtain fair production numbers, not high numbers.  Instructions for the test period and verbal discussions asked that the agencies not “stack the results.”

 

Union: We request all of the RAW DATA that was used to come up with these new standards.  (CA/PPT Management agrees to provide Union with raw summary data.)

 

Union: We are also concerned that we were not consulted during the process to create these new standards.

 

Management: Reminded that management encourages Union input through the local partnerships.  Very little/none was ever received.  When management reached consensus among management, information was shared with agencies and the Union.

 

Counting Counter Cases (Applications Already “Paper” Adjudicated)

 

Management: This is where we had “fluffing” of the numbers reported for the study.  Inspecting or “wanding” or “machine adjudicating” these cases will be a separate assignment in all offices in 2004 – these cases will not be included in the work Specialists will perform when being measured against the quotas in Element 2. 

 

Union’s Main Objection to Management’s Methodology

 

Union: Passport Specialists report that they feel they are working too fast and many are concerned that we may issue a passport to a fraud or even a terrorist.  To meet the quota, many specialists report that they are virtually required to “cut corners”, such as working through their breaks/lunches or avoid complex, problem cases or putting them off ‘til a time when they are not “under the gun”.  The problem with reclearing multiple names entered on one line by Mellon Bank remains.  Supervisors are aware of and even encourage some of this corner-cutting.  It is not fair to the employees to virtually require them to take these shortcuts. 

 

Management: We do not believe that systemically, specialists have to work through breaks/lunches to achieve minimal production standards.  If they are, they need to be counseled for performance problems.

 

Union: Our main objection to the way Management did its study is that by basing the 2004 standard on a measurement on how employees performed in 2003, this will “lock-in” the methods that employees used to reach the current standards into how they reach the future standards.  It should be no surprise that the results of the study were in line with the standards that employees are currently expected to meet.  If the current standards were 50 an hour, Management’s study would have shown that we could do 50 an hour.  Employees will meet the standard that is set.  However, the current way that things are done is not correct and needs to be changed.  No matter how many technological improvements we make to Photodig, MIV, SSN’s, Namecheck, etc., if we don’t have enough time to do the job right then mistakes will be made.  We are rushing too fast to get passports out the door, and this could have terrible consequences.  There is a minimum of 30 steps that employees have when adjudicating applications, but they cannot do all 30 steps in the time allotted to them – we do not have enough time to do the job the right way.  We will submit to Management a list of all the steps Passport Specialists need to take to adjudicate accurately a passport application.  Will also submit a separate list of what items in the adjudication process specialists “cut” in order to meet their numbers.

 

Management: Probably only 10% of the PPT/WN specialists actually met the high numerical standard that was in place for that office during the April study.  What is “the right way” to adjudicate?

 

Union: following the instructions that we have been given, including GI 2150.6D and Namecheck instructions.  The right way to adjudicate includes checking the information on the application against the information on the TDIS screen, making sure the names on the application and the evidence are consistent, “unstacking” the names when Mellon Bank enters multiple other surnames on one line, not excepting out for later or altogether avoiding complex or difficult cases, and not working through breaks or lunch. 

 

Q&A on Development of Elements/Standards

 

Union: Did Management consult with INS (BCIS), Customs, FBI, DHS (Homeland Security) when it developed these standards?  Are they aware that Management is proposing that, for example, GS-11 specialists spend an average 2 minutes and 30 seconds adjudicating each application? 

 

Management: No.  There was no need to inform these other offices. 

 

Union: Did Management take into account repetitive motion injuries when developing these elements/standards?  Anecdotally, it seems that adjudicating for a number of years and striving to reach the quota has led to problems for some of our specialists. 

 

Management: No.  We have conducted studies at most Passport Agencies on ergonomics.  If employees are experiencing problems, we encourage them to inform their supervisors so appropriate action may be taken.

 

Union: Did Management consider instituting a MAXIMUM number, in addition to the minimum numbers proposed?  We believe that it is possible for employees to work too fast. 

 

Management: No.  We never gave that any consideration. 

 

Management’s Plan for Measuring Performance

 

Management: These new standardized performance elements require the standardization of some processes and procedures currently in place at some agencies and centers.  The new standards do not have to be met every single day, but rather as an average over the course of the appraisal year.  These processes and procedures include:

*See attachment -  Management’s List of Standardized Processes and Procedures

 

Reading Policies, Procedures, and Work-Related E-mails

 

Union: In many offices there used to be more meetings for adjudication than there are now, and instructions were handed to employees.  E-mail is a great improvement for our offices, but one downside is that policies, procedures (e.g. “Green Instructions”), and other work-related information are emailed to the employees, who are expected to read and to know the information being disseminated, but are not granted any time subtracted from their production quota to actually do the reading.  One example of this occurred in February of 2001, when two lengthy instructions on handling new 320 cases were distributed to the employees.  In the past, time was subtracted for meetings that employees attended, and now these emails have become a sort of virtual e-meeting.  Will time be subtracted from the employee’s day when policies are distributed starting in 2004?  What about subtracting time to complete work sheets or work reports?

 

Management: Yes, supervisors should subtract time from the employee’s day when a lengthy policy is emailed.  The details of this will have to be worked out.  We are open to the idea of using work sheets and work reports, and subtracting time from the day for that. 

 

Quota Minimums to be Strictly Enforced

 

Union: In Element 2, specialists are expected to perform 8 different functions.  If a GS-9 or a GS-11 Specialist, for example, averaged 23 applications at the desk and 8 applications at the counter (below the 24 and 9, respectively, that are expected), but does a fantastic job on the other six components, can that employee still receive a “Fully Successful” or even an “Excellent” rating?

 

Management: No.  That employee would be rated “Less than Fully Successful” and placed on a PIP.  If he or she could not raise her performance, he/she would be subject to possible performance-based actions, including downgrading.  The other parts of Element 2 are “pass/fail”.  The only way to get “Excellent” or “Outstanding” ratings in Element 2 are to achieve the numbers specified. 

 

Union: What about specialists who have disabilities or impairments (e.g., poor sight)?  Will a reasonable accommodation for them be that the quotas be slightly reduced?  Will quotas be slightly reduced for employees who have suffered from job-induced repetitive motion injuries?

 

Management: No.  All specialists will be expected to meet these numbers. 

 

Making Errors: “Double Jeopardy” in Element 2 & 3?

 

Union: If a specialist makes an error – for example, if he/she forgets to administer the oath at the counter and the customer has to be called back – will the count against the employee in both Element 2 and Element 3, which seems unfair to us, or will it count only in Element 2?

 

Management: The error rate will only be measured in Element 2 and that mistake would not count against the employee in Element 3. 

 

Counting Applications Removed for Suspense and for Holds

 

Union: One improvement is that you are planning on counting cases suspended or removed for holds, which in many offices currently are not counted, even though they take more time than applications that are approved.  How do you plan on counting these cases?

 

Management: We will run a report to show how many applications each specialist removed for Suspense (letters) and Holds and then add them to the TDIS inspection count.  Hopefully a future upgrade of TDIS will improve on this and make it easier for supervisors. 

 

Los Angeles Passport Agency: “Paper” and “Screen” Adjudication Separated

 

Union: The adjudication/inspection function is “split” at PPT/LA – specialists adjudicate on paper only and then other specialists “wand”/inspect the applications on the TDIS-PD screen.  Will these new elements/standards alter production at PPT/LA?

 

Management: We will talk to PPT/LA about this.  They will have to combine both functions starting in January, 2004. 

 

National Passport Center: Specialists Do Not Record the Evidence

 

Union: Element 2 states “legibly records citizenship . . . documents” and includes a “notational error rate”, but the specialists at NPC approve the applications without recording the evidence (that is done by contractor document reviewers after the specialist approves the application on paper and performs the TDIS Document review function).  How will specialists at NPC be measured against this part of the Element?

 

Management: The requirement in Element 2 for legibly recording evidence will be removed for NPC specialists. 

 

Fraud Referrals: Checks and Worksheets

 

Union: At some Agencies, certain fraud checks (phone address verification on applicant and NOK, SSDI, PIERS checks on parents and IDW, etc.) have to be completed, in addition to the completion of the fraud worksheet, BEFORE submitting a case to the FPM office.  At other Agencies, few of these checks are done before referral.  These inconsistencies could affect production and the specialist’s rating in Element 2.

 

Management: Good point.  We will talk to the other Agencies about standardizing the FPM referral process.

 

Fraud Training Element (GS-11) – Acceptance Agent Training

 

Union: The new standards call for GS-11s to conduct Customer Service training for Acceptance Agents in Element 3 but it does not mention Fraud training for Acceptance Agents in Element 4.  Is this by design?

 

Management: No, this was not by design and we will correct that.

 

Fraud Referrals: Who Receives Credit for Suspended Applications?

 

Union: If we go to centralized suspense with the new elements/standards, who will be given credit for FPM referrals in Element 4?

 

Management: This will be determined locally. 

 

Union: If the elements and standards are uniform, then this should be uniform too. 

 

Management: PPT/FO will discuss this with Agency managers.  We would like Union input on this. 

 

PLOTS

 

Union: The proposed Element 4 for GS-11’s mentions using PLOTS.  Will all GS-11 Passport Specialists be given access to PLOTS? 

 

Management: Yes.

 

Acceptance Agent Training by GS-11’s

 

Union: Some employees enjoy doing acceptance agent training, others do not, and some others wish to do it but are not given a chance.  Will the acceptance agent training continue to be voluntary in 2004?

 

Management: No.  Per Element 3, it will be assigned as part of the rotation into the CSM program.  We have to give every employee the opportunity to help the CSM and FPM programs, otherwise there will be complaints.  We will be open to requests by employees who wish to voluntarily downgrade to GS-9 if they do not wish to conduct acceptance agent training.  If employees have difficulty with public speaking, we can address that with training. 

 

Evaluating Element 3 (Customer Service) and Element 4 (Fraud Prevention)

 

Union: How will employees be rated on Element 3 and Element 4?  What if an employee, through no fault of his/her own, does not get a chance to perform some of the duties in those elements? 

 

Management: We will use the Department of State’s Generic Performance Standards to rate employees in these elements.  Also see our handout on “Overall Performance Concepts”.  If an employee does not get a chance to perform some of these duties, that will not count in his/her evaluation at all. 

* See attachment - Management’s Overall Performance Concepts (Excellent & Outstanding Ratings)

 

Public Counter: Factors in Performance

 

Union: Does the quota refer to appointments or applicants?  Does it include “rejects”?  How will employees be rated against the quota at the counter if there are not enough applicants applying to meet the quota?  How will the new receipt process affect all of this?

 

Management: The quota refers to applicants and it does include “rejects”.  If there are not enough appointments to measure the employee’s performance, then that will not negatively impact the employee’s evaluation.  The new receipt processes will have to be reviewed to see if we need to lower the quotas. 

 

Public Counter: Absence of Supervisor

 

Union: One of our concerns about the counter standards is that in some agencies, a supervisor is not at the counter.  Often, the supervisor is not even on the same floor of the building.  This requires specialist to stop taking applications and find a supervisor when they need something such as a waiting will-call approved.  What provisions will be made to account for this?

 

Management: With these new standards, specialist working the counter will be empowered to make decisions or have someone there who is empowered to make decisions.

 

Union’s Primary Goal

 

Union: We need enough time to do our jobs the right way.  If our employees and our Union didn’t care about quality, then we wouldn’t be raising these concerns.  The employees are not concerned about the numbers being too high because they are lazy and want to do as little work as possible.  The employees are concerned about the numbers being too high because they care very deeply about the integrity of the document that we are producing.  This is the point we have been trying to make on this issue for a number of years.  The specialists can issue as many applications per hour as you want them to issue.  We could all probably sign our names 100 times an hour.  But if we did that, then we would be making all kinds of mistakes and issuing to non-citizens and frauds, and that is what we want to avoid.    We do not concede that the proposed 2004 numbers are “lower” since, for example, Specialists in Los Angeles will now have to inspect as well as “paper” adjudicate, and Specialists in Seattle will now have to include time-consuming EF cases with their regular work. 

 

Union’s Proposal: “Adjudicating Without Shortcuts” Study

 

Union: We can see that management has put a lot of time and effort into putting together these standards.  However, we can’t fully support these new standards unless we are sure that they are fair.  At this point, we do not know.  It has been stated here today that we want specialist to do what is expected of them and do it properly.  One of our major concerns is that we know specialist are taking shortcuts to achieve the current standards and we feel that if the test was done while specialist were taking the shortcuts, they will need to continue to take the shortcuts to achieve the new standards.  Less than 1% of specialist do 100% of what is required on 100% of the applications.  We are very concerned that the passports we produce are one of the most secure documents in the world and we know that production is very important.  We need to make sure that employees have sufficient time to produce this secure document.  We have proposed that we in conjunction with management do another limited survey to find out what numbers they come up with.  Only, this time we should give instructions that everyone in the test will do everything required on each document.  We have requested official time for two specialists in each grade at each agency to accomplish this test.  We feel that this request for official time should be easily approved because the specialist would actually continue to do their work.

 

Management: Standards are a Management Right and Florence Fultz will talk to the other RDs about the Union request to conduct their own survey.  She also said she would have to consult with PPT Management before she could respond to this request.

 

Union: Again, we must say that we see that a lot of work has gone into these standards but, we are very concerned that we will lose “quality” to quantity with these new production standards.  We stress again the importance of the Union and Management  conducting another survey/ “test period” to ensure that all passport specialists actually follow ALL the 30+ adjudication steps to accurately determine a fair production standard.  The results of our own survey may or may not agree with CA/PPT Management results.