Monday, October 6, 2008

Performance-based incentive scheme now on a voluntary basis

The department of science and technology (DST) that took the lead in formulating a performance-related incentive scheme for research organizations it funds, now plans to implement the scheme on a voluntary basis because some beneficiary organizations are still not convinced of the efficacy of the scheme.The dept of science and technology proposes to scrap annual confidential reports

The Sixth Pay Commission had carried out a study through the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, on a performance-based incentive system, to ostensibly improve the performance outputs of Central government employees.
The study, according to the official website of the pay commission, was aimed at working out a model whereby a base salary is attached to each post based on skills and responsibility and simultaneously, a second component would be payable over and above the salary on the basis of the productivity and performance of employees, either individually or as a group.
The study recommended an annual bonus of up to 20% to employees whose achievements exceed certain targets, which has been accepted by the cabinet.
The government has also given in-principle approval to contractual postings in government departments of employees hired from private sector.
As reported previously in Mint, a finance ministry official who didn’t wish to be identified had recently said that DST has already moved to put in place an incentive-based system.
“Once DST implements it, we expect there will be pressure on other government departments to follow suit,” this official had added.
“Some people aren’t convinced yet and so we will be implementing this on a voluntary basis,” said a senior official in the ministry of science and technology, who didn’t want to be identified.
DST is the largest funder, excluding the atomic energy and space ministries, of basic research programmes in the country. It is the most important source of funds for nearly 17 autonomous organizations that are working in a range of fields from astronomy to biology.
“But I’m confident that once a few adopt, the rest will come around,” the same official added.
One major change the scheme proposes is to do away with the current annual confidential reports and bring in annual performance management reports.
Here a 12-point criteria matrix would be drawn up, that evaluate criteria such as the number of articles published in peer-reviewed journals, impact factors of the journals, (These measures refer to how often a particular research paper is cited by peers in the field, and the frequency of well-cited research papers appearing in a particular journal) and the quality and impact of new schemes initiated (by scientists on the managerial side).
“One of the measures suggested for annual review is impact factor of a journal, and citation indexes. However, it would be unfair to use the same scale to compare output in veterinary sciences to (that in) nanotechnology, as nanotech is a much hotter field than vet sciences. A good paper on vet sciences will never be highly cited. That’s how the system works,” said a scientist, who didn’t want to be identified given the sensitivity of the issue, at the Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology, one of the autonomous research institutes funded by the DST.
Another proposal in the scheme that hasn’t gone down well is to have independent experts from other institutions rate scientists, which, the formulators of the scheme say,will help remove bias and infuse transparency in the rating system, said a DST official familiar with discussions on the scheme.
Moreover, the scheme is expected to be budget-neutral, meaning no extra funds will be provided. “Finance committees are extremely tight anyway. So obviously the extra money will come from cuts in laboratory tests, and stricter controls in procuring equipment,” the scientist from the Wadia institute added.
The department currently plans to allot Rs60-70 crore in the first phase, beginning this year.
However, many scientists seem to be receptive of performance incentives, as the only way they can hope for substantial increments is to get promoted.
In government labs, scientist grades vary from A to G, the latter being the highest, and on an average it takes about 20 years to go from A to G.
“I think it would be welcome. Even at F and G, pay hikes are not substantial. There are more perks like allowances for subscribing to journals, and increased funds for attending international conferences,” said Madhavan Rajeevan, a scientist at the Indian Space Research Organisation and formerly with the India Meteorological Department, which follows a pay structure similar to DST.