Skip to page navigation
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Official websites use .gov
A .gov website belongs to an official government organization in the United States.

Secure .gov websites use HTTPS
A lock ( ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .gov website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites. / Policy / Performance Management / Performance Management Cycle
Skip to main content

Appraisal Systems and Appraisal Programs

Appraisal Systems and Appraisal Programs
What's the difference?

New performance management regulations allow agencies to develop appraisal systems and programs that best fit their organizational cultures and work structures. To help program designers take advantage of this opportunity, this article provides information on some fundamentals of system and program design.

Appraisal systems and programs

Review and Approval - Agency System with Program A, B, C and D falling underneath.


An appraisal system is the framework of policies and parameters within which an agency's appraisal program(s) will operate. An agency needs only one system to cover all its non-SES employees, except for those excluded by statute or regulation. The system must be approved by OPM.

A system sets the parameters or ranges for the following components of performance appraisal:

  • the time allowed for the length of a normal appraisal cycle;
  • the pattern(s) of summary levels;
  • the levels at which performance elements may be appraised;
  • the minimum period of time that must be completed before a performance rating may be prepared; and
  • criteria and procedures for establishing separate programs should the agency system permit more than one program.

We encourage agencies to design their systems to be as flexible as possible with few additional restrictions placed on programs so that subcomponents will be able to design programs that support their strategic plans, goals, cultures, and work structures.


An appraisal program establishes specific procedures for appraising individual employees and operates within the parameters established by an agency's appraisal system. Agency programs do not have to be approved by OPM but they must conform to law, regulation, and the system under which they operate. An agency may have a single program to cover all of its non-SES employees or it may have multiple programs, each covering a specific group of employees with no employee covered by more than one program. The graphic above depicts the relationship of a system to its programs.

Each program must establish one length for its appraisal cycle and one pattern for its summary levels. Otherwise, a program may include variations in how employees are appraised and a range in the length of the minimum period. Examples of appraisal component variations within a program could include the following:

  • An appraisal program could establish a minimum period of 120 days for its scientists and a minimum period of 60 days for its administrative employees.
  • An appraisal program operating under a system that has not placed restrictions on the use of elements, may establish a flexible element appraisal process allowing performance plans to include critical, non-critical, and additional performance elements that can be rated at various levels. This allows discretion throughout the organization to determine the types of elements that will be used and the number of levels of performance at which elements will be appraised.

Technical decisions program designers make

Program designers must determine which employees the program covers, the length of the program's normal appraisal cycle, and the pattern of summary rating levels to which all employees under the program will be subject. In addition, program designers should develop policy and guidance and in many cases may set specific parameters for how many and which performance levels may be used to appraise critical and non-critical elements, whether to include additional performance elements in employees' performance plans, the length of the minimum period, the method for appraising each element, and how to derive the summary level.

Control Panel