Business & Economy

Audit: Many state employees weren’t evaluated last year

A newly released audit found that just 15 percent of employees in three executive branch departments underwent statutorily required annual performance reviews last year.

Just 27 of the 181 classified employees in the departments of Information and Innovation, Human Resources, and Finance and Management went through an evaluation last year.

The audit, published Wednesday, calls the annual performance evaluations “key to holding individual public servants accountable.”

Doug Hoffer
State Auditor Doug Hoffer. File photo by Morgan True/VTDigger

State Auditor Doug Hoffer said he decided to audit the evaluations because they are important to monitoring the state workforce. State statutes and Human Resources Department policy also indicate such evaluations are significant, he said.

The annual performance evaluations are one part of a system that Human Resources uses to manage government agencies to encourage productivity, according to the audit.

“Any employee in any organization deserves to know what his or her supervisor’s expectation is for them,” Hoffer said.

Regular evaluations give employees and managers an opportunity to confer on how well the worker is meeting expectations. “The lack of information about that has very practical implications,” Hoffer said.

Employees with more favorable results on their evaluations may be eligible for a raise or promotion, he said. They’re also less likely to lose their jobs in the event of layoffs.

If an employee is not meeting expectations, “the impact of that is not just felt in that individual’s office or cubicle,” Hoffer said. Underperformance on the job is to the detriment of the state as a whole, he said.

“We’re working with taxpayer money, and we’re trying to achieve a whole bunch of things,” Hoffer said.

The audit sampled 20 of the people who did not have an annual evaluation in 2015 and found that nine of them had not been evaluated in more than five years. Three of them, including one who was hired in 1998, had no record of ever being annually evaluated.

Human Resources Commissioner Maribeth Spellman, Finance and Management Commissioner Andy Pallito and Commissioner Richard Boes of the Department of Information and Innovation wrote a letter responding to the audit.

They wrote that the state was already trying to improve the performance management process before the audit. The measures include launching mandatory training for all supervisors and conducting an annual survey of state employees, they said.

Human Resources Deputy Commissioner Thomas Cheney emphasized Wednesday that the department is already making an effort to improve the rate of evaluations.

“Evaluations are important, something that we value, but it is one of several factors,” Cheney said. “DHR has a number of ongoing initiatives to improve employee performance and management.”

He said that so far this year the department has already completed evaluations of 70 percent of the members of the department.

Steve Howard, executive director of the Vermont State Employees’ Association, called the audit report troubling.

“It’s pretty bad management,” Howard said.

The state employee contract includes a requirement for regular evaluations. Howard said union members find it very important to know what is expected of them in their professional roles.

“If people took some time out to listen to front-line workers, state government would most likely run more efficiently,” Howard said.

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Elizabeth Hewitt

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  • Six years into the Shumlin administration, three of his Cabinet members in response to the subject audit indicate that they were already trying to improve the performance management process. They’re trying to improve……….What have these people been doing for the past six years?

    Writing performance reviews requires supervisors to be on top of what their subordinates are doing and takes some thought to do correctly. If a supervisor is doing his/her job properly, it is not a difficult task to complete. A thoughtfully completed performance review is extremely important to the individual employee and critical to insuring that organizational work performance is carried out at the highest possible level.

    This failure to rate employees is yet another failure of the Shumlin administration. Failure that ultimately costs the tax payers money because opportunities to improve employee performance is lost.

    • I am interested about why the thumbs down on Mr. Yankowski’s comments.

      In a well run private sector business, yearly performance reviews with additional frequent employee check-ins are standard operating procedure. Reviews protect/grow the employee as well as the company.

      When important procedural standards are not met, the fault lies with the managerial hierarchy..starting from the top down. It’s called follow-up…trust and verify. Tracking is not rocket science…unless you have no management experience.

      Verification and follow-up has not been a strong suit of this administration (pick your issue/scandal du jour).

  • State Auditor Doug Hoffer continues to lead by example. He is one of the few in Montpelier focused on the work and not partisan bickering. Vermonters should re-elect Doug Hoffer as he faces “new” Republican Dan Feliciano. As Performance Audits are mapped out months in advance, Vermont would cause disruption to the important work that State Auditor Hoffer has already identified and plans to review by not returning him to office.

    State Auditor Hoffer and his dedicated staff continually churn out the highest work product and without the Auditors diligent and important work there would be very little accountability going on in Montpelier.

    State Auditor Doug Hoffer was instrumental in passage of the Vermont False Claims Act with retroactive enforcement including strong protections for whistleblowers which is now in play with the criminal investigation of The Brattleboro Retreat which has now entered its 12th month.

    I am grateful for Mr. Hoffer’s service and for his efforts to ensure accountability at all levels of state government.

    Thank you,

    Thomas Joseph
    Twitter: relator_joseph

  • Dave Bellini

    Speaking of the Department of Human Resources: how many commissioners have their been in the past 15 years ??? Too many to count. They just pull whatever lawyer they can find from the AG’s office, put them in the position for a year or two and go on to the next one. Revolving door management and patronage jobs drive other problems in state government. That’s why I propose having job descriptions and minimum qualifications for all commissioners and agency secretaries. Governors should recruit and hire for these jobs and take it seriously. Some jobs just get handed out to political friends as a favor and the person just keeps the chair warm and draws a six figure salary. Putting an end to patronage jobs would be the best step towards improving state government management.

    • Mr. Bellini, as President of the VSEA you would think that the VSEA membership would understand that by endorsing another Democratic candidate in the mold of Governor Shumlim for Governor provides the least chance that real change or reform will ever materialize. Indeed, there are more important issues than paid sick days and the best chance for a new direction in state government will only come with the election of a non-Democrat as Governor given their years of failure. Considering the two candidates running on the Republican side, the only real or credible candidate is Lt. Governor Phil Scott. If you want to change the status quo and bring about meaningful reform then encourage your membership to support the re-election of State Auditor Doug Hoffer and to support Lt. Gov. Phil Scott who has made clear in his campaign that he will not let Vermonter’s down.

      Best wishes,

      Thomas Joseph

    • Linda Baird-White

      Totally agree with you Dave. Each agency has it’s own personnel division. Last I knew, automated reminders were emailed in the past reminding supervisors and managers that evaluations were due. Sounds like follow-up didn’t take place or the process slipped into the cracks in the floorboards somewhere. That’s where you start looking. Subordinates being reviewed have the right to clarify or dispute any comments made by their supervisor or manager. Those who are responsible for performing annual performance reviews are most likely avoiding very time consuming contested reviews and reviews also have to be acknowledged upwards through the chain of command.

      • Aula DeWitt

        As a supervisor with the State since 2004 I can tell you I have never received an automated reminder. I know when my folks are due and my folks get their reviews in a timely manner.

  • David R. Black

    Job description and performance @ the State level should follow what IBM does:
    IBM lets the employee write a PBC (personal business commitment) at the beginning of the year, then at the end of the year if all commitments are or aren’t met the employee is grades on the outcome. Boy would that be an eye opener at the State level. That goes for the big shots too.

    • Mary Reed

      The State employee workforce is the human infrastructure of State government administration. At every level, performance evaluation is a vital component in the process of employee training/ development, performance, retention, and a host of other employer/ employee interactions. The current State Employee performance evaluation format is quite thorough and inclusive IF it is properly applied/ used. It allows, among many other components, for the employee and the employee’s supervisor/ rater to set performance goals and to define criteria for measuring achievement of those goals. Training in employee performance evaluation has long been available for employees who supervise/ rate employee performance. Supervisors/ raters who are motivated in the process of employee development and performance can use the current tool to achieve desired outcomes.

      One key to good, on- time performance evaluations has always been a supervisor/ rater motivated, trained and able to help employees understand and perform their work expectations, set performance goals consistent with employees work role, assess employee performance, and discuss/ document subsequent performance. Another key has always been upper-level management investment in the employee development/ performance evaluation process and willingness to hold site managers who do not produce required evaluations accountable in meaningful ways.

  • Kim Fried

    Do we really expect any different from this administration? Just another case of “do as I say not as I! do ” The laws have never meant much to this administration.

  • Lance Wilson

    Go back to this VTDigger story from last year on merit bonuses.

    “Each year, a few hundred state employees receive non-recurring lump sums as recognition for achievement ”

    or this from the state HR website

    The mission of Vermont State Government is to provide essential services to Vermont citizens. Meeting this commitment requires that each state employee performs his or her job as effectively as possible. To this end, a supervisor’s most fundamental responsibilities are the planning, observation, evaluation, and development of employee job performance.

    If the HR department itself can’t live up to its “most fundamental responsibilities”, how can taxpayers have any faith in meeting other responsibilities? if the HR Commissioner can’t even manage employee evaluations in her own department, why is she a commissioner?

    Kudos to Mr. Hoffer for following the rule of “Inspect what you expect”

    Peter – you know why for many employees they really don’t care despite what they say – their pay, benefits, working conditions, and promotion/layoff process are NOT set by performance, but set by negotiations. A system exists where management is fundamentally not those asked to give up their resources, but by agents who have little stake in the process except minimizing their own costs since they are playing with “other people’s money.”

    C’mon – have you known a union when it cares about something NOT to make a grievance or publicize the issue? I’m sure Mr. Howard has known about this – me thinks he doth protest too much..

    • Paul Richards

      “…their pay, benefits, working conditions, and promotion/layoff process are NOT set by performance, but set by negotiations.”
      We don’t need no stink’n performance reviews. In the public sector union monopolistic world performance takes a back seat to the overall goals which are to continue to control the process and force the taxpayers to squeeze out more and more money to keep the corrupt machine going. Steal from the taxpayers against their will, take from the rank and file and then funnel it right back to the democrats that make is all possible. There is no merit involved in the equation.

    • Arthur Hamlin

      Lance, pay is set for each job based on the job description and duties of the job including educational requirements, experience, and level of responsibility. You can look them up on the state website. Promotions are obtained by applying for a higher level job using the same application system available to the general public to apply for state jobs. Though, some jobs are temporarily open to state employees or employees of the particular department only. Then the person has to be interviewed and offered the job if the person doing the hiring thinks they are the best candidate. I have seen plenty of promotions go to outside applicants instead of state workers.
      Also, notwithstanding the anti-public worker union rant of the other person who commented on your post, it really has nothing to do with the union. In fact, to my knowledge employees in Human Resources are not even eligible to join the union so if they are not getting annual reviews the union really has nothing to do with that.

  • Mark Keefe

    “Evaluations are important, something that we value, but it is one of several factors,” Cheney said.” Evaluations are not just important in our state government they are; the most fundamental tool of the performance management system, a documented expectation in job descriptions for anyone with direct employee responsibilities, and in some cases contractually required. It is an explicit expectation for supervisors and managers (for more good reasons that I want to write) and if they are not completed the responsible individual has not meet the basic requirements for their job. If the Commissioner and Deputy Commissioner can not get their own departmental employees to meet fundamental job requirements within in their functional expertise how can accomplish their stated departmental mission of: “to provide leadership to and work in partnership with other departments within State Government in order to promote managerial and workforce excellence while fostering an understanding and observance of regulatory requirements.”?
    You will never get to “managerial and workforce excellence” if you can not execute the basics correctly – and saying you have “other initiatives” only further demonstrates a lack of understanding of the human resource function and/or an inability to meet the requirements of your own position. While the other departments within the state are not “off the hook” for not executing the a basic and important tool of managing people – it is particularly disturbing when it should be your area of expertise/responsibility.

  • From the article,

    “A newly released audit found that just 15 percent of employees in three executive branch departments underwent statutorily required annual performance reviews last year.”

    “If an employee is not meeting expectations, “the impact of that is not just felt in that individual’s office or cubicle,” Hoffer said. Underperformance on the job is to the detriment of the state as a whole, he said.”

    First, I want to give kudos to Doug Hoffer for doing a great job as auditor. Hard for me to give a similar “evaluation” for most of the rest of them that serve in Montpelier. Therefore, Doug will receive my vote in Nov.

    Working for a company that did 100% job performance evaluations yearly and then some, I wonder how any company could stay in business with the lack job performance evaluation standards the State of Vermont enacts! In this case, we are talking about the government here who can make up for their inefficiencies and lack of productivity by raising someone’s taxes.

    What this audit proves is….State of Vermont government is beyond dysfunctional.

  • William Hays

    During my 33 year career in the US Army, I suffered through many seasons, iterations, and revisions of Officer and Enlisted Evaluation Reports. My conclusion is that they were/are a waste of time and money. Beware! The report is only as good as the knowledge, writing skills, and competency of the persons writing, reviewing, and endorsing the report. Beware!

    • Ann Meade

      Beware of hiring people who can’t do their job? In my experience the folks complaing about the process would most benefit.

  • Arthur Hamlin

    I respect the auditor a great deal, but I don’t think singling out three small departments (less than 200 employees out of the entire state workforce) is representative of the state government as a whole. I’ve worked for the state for almost 20 years, and have 20 annual evaluations to prove it. Regardless, you’d the Department of Human Resources of all departments would want to set a better example.

  • Deborah Billado

    This lack of accountability to the taxpayers is clearly just one more sign of a failed administration. If this lack of performance evaluation occurred in a private business the size of our state government it would have folded and failed by now. But because this is all funded by the hardworking taxpayers… The state motto is probably the same as Hillarys
    Which Is ” at this point what difference does any of this make”! It’s time for a major overhaul in Vermont.

  • “key to holding individual public servants accountable.” Can Doug Holler give an indication of when any State Employee was held accountable? And isn’t “accountable” a relative term. Look at the EB-5 deal….