DHS proposal seeks HR flexibility

The Homeland Security Department unveiled new personnel rules Feb. 20 that would overhaul 50 years of federal workplace regulations, essentially eliminating automatic raises and instead linking pay to performance. The rules would also limit appeals for job disputes.

The idea is to create a more flexible system for 110,000 employees at the new department, according to Janet Hale, DHS undersecretary for management. It would discard the 15-step General Schedule pay scale and implement a performance-based system that rewards employees for good work, not longevity.

"The world's changed, and we believe that our human resource system needs to change," Hale said in a Feb. 13 briefing.

Doris Hausser, senior policy adviser at the Office of Personnel Management, said the proposed rules are a "landmark change in terms of modernizing pay."

The proposed regulations would eliminate automatic yearly raises and replace the pay scale with pay banding. It would end geographical differentials for high-cost cities, replacing them with pay increases for specific jobs in a region. It would limit appeals of workplace decisions and eliminate union negotiations over shifting jobs and workers to other locations.

The changes are intended to make

it easier for the federal government to

shift workers quickly in the event of a national emergency. But no jobs will be eliminated because of the new rules, Hale

said.

Pay banding is not a new concept in the federal government. The General Accounting Office has been clustering and paying its employees based on occupation for at least 10 years, and the Transportation Security Administration implemented the salary structure when it was launched two years ago.

"Pay banding seems to work when it's implemented with the right kind of leadership behind it," said David McClure, vice president of e-government at the Council for Excellence in Government.

"It gets us out of the structure of federal services and looks at people from a skills perspective."

Nevertheless, the proposed new rules — 167 pages of which were posted in the Federal Register — will not be final for months.

Colleen Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, said her goal is to change them.

DHS officials "can accomplish their goal with far less restrictions than they are putting on collective bargaining and appeals," she said.

The redesigned personnel system is likely to cause shock waves in the ranks of federal employees and open the door to expanding the pay-for-performance strategy to other agencies.

Nevertheless, "these processes are

never easy," said Max Stier, president and chief executive officer of the Partnership for Public Service, a nonprofit group

focused on revitalizing the federal civil service. "If done right and done well, the system will be more efficient. In the short term, it will take a significant investment of management time and resources to make it work."

***

Proposed DHS personnel rules

Highlights of the Homeland Security Department's proposed personnel system:

* The 15-step General Schedule pay scale would be eliminated and replaced by pay bands.

* There would be 12 to 15 occupational clusters, and each cluster would have four pay bands: new hires, full-performance employees, senior experts and supervisors. The bands would have open pay ranges with no fixed step rates.

* Automatic pay raises would be eliminated and replaced by a pay-for-performance system.

* Pay for specific jobs would reflect the pay scale of the local economy. Geographic differentials would be eliminated.

* Federal labor unions would not be able to negotiate deployment of workers, assignment of work or introduction of new technologies.

Source: Proposed rule as published Feb. 20 in the Federal Register

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