Darryl Perkinson, newly elected president of the Federal Managers Association, began his federal career a bit earlier than most. He was a junior in high school when he joined a pre-apprentice program at the Norfolk Naval Shipyard, Va. After heading off to Virginia Wesleyan College and doing a stint with the Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, Perkinson came back to the shipyard 10 years later.
The day he became a first-line supervisor in 1986, he joined FMA. As a first-line supervisor electrician, he worked on submarines, carriers and battleships. Now a GS-12 supervisory training specialist, Perkinson is the deputy of the production training department at the shipyard. Perkinson was elected in March for a two-year term as president of FMA, which represents nearly 200,000 executives, managers and supervisors in the federal government. He takes over from Michael Styles, who retired after serving as FMA president for 16 years.
Q: How did you end up becoming FMA president?
Perkinson:When I became a first-line supervisor in 1986, the general foreman who hired me gave me an application form the same time he gave me my supervisor’s hat. I became involved at the chapter level, where I was recording secretary. I was president for seven years of my regional chapter before I decided to become zone president. Most recently I was national vice president. I have loved FMA since I was first introduced to it.Q: What challenges do you hope to address during your tenure?
Perkinson:Pay for performance and how it will be implemented. We’re dealing with this issue of more for less. There’s going to come a point and time where you can’t do more for less. Agencies have to start key investments in succession planning. We’ve got to rid the gap that occurred because of downsizing in 1990s. Added to that are the baby boomers retiring and taking their institutional knowledge and new supervisors coming on board who have not had the opportunity to gain the knowledge. Mike Styles has done a great job of gaining us respect in the federal community. Only by maintaining respect can we have a robust dialogue on the issues that affect managers.
Q: What are your concerns with performance-based pay?
Perkinson:We’re going to ask first- and second-line managers to become human resource experts. They’re going to have to lay out performance plans, individual development plans, and meet multiple times with each employee. Much of what they will be required to do was formerly considered human resources functions. So when we ask these managers who have been there for years to take on these additional responsibilities, are we going to train them on that? Is a two-week class going to teach you how to deal with all these employees in an increased capacity? Are they willing to invest training dollars to make that happen?
Where I’m situated, I’m in a stable environment; I’ll be able to execute the additional work. But we’re going to have instances of first-line supervisors working on ships and depots, not even working with employees all year — how does that employee accomplish that pay-for-performance evaluation period? Those supervisors are going to have a very tough time with their three [evaluation] meetings with each employee and all the issuances they’ll have to come up with.
Q: How will FMA approach the National Security Personnel System being put in at the Defense Department?
Perkinson:NSPS is law. Our concerns that we’ve expressed over the last year are transparency, training and budget. We have said from the beginning, if you are truly going to do pay for performance, you have to be ready to fund pay for performance and you have to put a training plan in place that is going to assist those supervisors that are going to implement this plan. It is robust training that is going to make this happen. We’ll be monitoring progress, identifying those areas where there are shortfalls. If we get anecdotal proof that there are shortfalls, we’ll identify those things.
Q: How do you hope to improve FMA?
Perkinson:My goals are to maintain the respect and community we have. I want to help narrow that gap between baby boomers getting ready to retire in three to five years and new supervisors coming on board. We want to give new supervisors an understanding of what our mission is all about. Our mission, while short in phrase, packs a lot of wallop: Promoting excellence in public service. That focus needs to be expounded on — we need to drive it home to Generation X people filling supervisory roles. Government service is a patriotic thing, an event in your life that you will always value. I’ve been reading a book about Abraham Lincoln’s presidency titled “Team of Rivals” [by historian Doris Kearns Goodwin]. When he built his Cabinet, he brought on board people that many considered to be his opponents. He explained that all the men he chose believed in what this country is all about. We need to get back to that perspective. If I could help managers feel that they are serving our country because of its greatness, I would feel like I achieved something.
Q: Are you doing any specific outreach attempts?
Perkinson:We do our outreach locally. Frequently it’s something as simple as what we did at the Norfolk Naval Shipyard recently. We invite young managers to a lunch of pizza while we discuss our legislative accomplishments. In two meetings, we got over half of the classes to join FMA. Hopefully we can roll out that model to others.
Q: Why do you think FMA is effective?
Perkinson:We’ve taken the approach of being collaborative with agencies and Congress. When we take stances, we realize there may need to be compromise. We don’t stand hard and fast and think our position is the only one to take. We wanted the GS overtime pay cap to be upgraded from GS-10, Step 1 to GS-15, Step 1, but we were just getting nowhere with that so we stepped back. We changed our position to say, just out of fairness, at least let our people get paid their true rate of pay when they work overtime. Previously federal managers who were paid at GS-12, Step 6 and above were paid less than their normal hourly rate when they worked overtime. And when we took a compromise step back, it was readily accepted by Congress.
Q: How much political activity does FMA engage in?
Perkinson:It’s membership driven, based on what our membership desires and wants. When we collect money, we try to be more grassroots oriented. So we get more value when our members indicate there is a fund-raiser in their area. Or [when] one of the members of Congress we work with is up for re-election, we’ll contribute through FMA’s political action committee. We’re very nonpartisan and we’re more oriented to helping those people who carry our issues forward than anything else.
Q: What unique concerns do federal employees in field offices have?
Perkinson:A lot of rules that are made [in Washington] are great rules, but they face budgetary problems. When it comes down to the agency, they say “You’ve got to pay for it out of your budget.” That puts agency heads in a jam. They have to think whether they want three more full-time equivalents or do they want to pay for some human resources flexibility that costs those positions. Inevitably they determine they want people more and they cut flexibilities like training, travel and things like telework.
Q: How good is the program to repay federal employees’ student loans?
Perkinson:Loan repayment comes out of agency budgets. There is no separate funding mechanism set up by Congress. So if an agency doesn’t want to allocate funds for loan repayment, they don’t. I went and got my master’s degree. When I heard about loan repayment, I asked to apply for it. The lady who was handling it said, “Darryl, you’re not in a critical position.” Only information technology folks and engineers were able to apply. Each agency has built a niche for what are its critical jobs. As for my job being a supervisory training specialist, I took it to mean anybody could replace me. How are we disincentivizing our people when we say nationally we have a loan repayment program, but when employees want to go make themselves better educated they can’t get access to it?
Q: Why is collaboration so important to FMA?
Perkinson:We as FMA have built our clout through collaboration. We want agencies, the administration and Congress to understand that we as a professional organization want to be in a consultative situation. We do understand what they want implemented. Dialogue has to be maintained where we constantly talk to each other. We have been brought on board by the Office of Personnel Management and Defense Department when NSPS was rolled out. We have been asked by Congress and Sen. [George] Voinovich [R-Ohio] to talk about the Homeland Security Department’s pay plan. So those conversations need to be ongoing, and we love to build on those efforts to help our people.