DHS, DOD workforce changes delayed

BALTIMORE — The Bush administration's plan to overhaul the employee systems at the Homeland Security and Defense departments has run into delays, and in the case of civilian workers at the Pentagon, it will not be implemented until after the presidential election in November.

Administration officials issued proposed regulations months ago to essentially eliminate seniority pay plans, pay workers based on performance and limit labor rights. But officials at the two departments have made little progress in hammering out the final rules. The new regulations would affect more than 650,000 civilian DOD employees and 110,000 DHS workers.

At the first Office of Personnel Management Federal Workforce Conference last week, officials said the DHS plan has been delayed at least a few weeks. Melissa Allen, senior human resources adviser at DHS, told attendees there have been some hiccups.

The upcoming election is not being used as a bellwether for releasing or holding up the new rules, Allen said. In fact, she said, the rules are likely to be released before the Nov. 2 presidential election.

"There are places where we have agreed in principle," Allen said at a session on the new DHS personnel system.

OPM Director Kay Coles James declined to say when the final rules would be released. The rules would allow officials to quickly transfer workers to other locations in the event of an emergency, eliminate their jobs and make it harder to get a yearly pay raise, among other things.

James told the conference that the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks are among the factors that motivated Bush administration officials to improve human resources systems to better handle potential security threats. "At OPM, we have a greater challenge: protecting people," she said.

Nevertheless, "with modernization and reform, no agency is left behind," James said. "Our job is to make sure the core values of the American civil service system stay intact."

Although administration officials have been meeting with the three labor unions that represent DHS workers, Brian DeWyngaert, executive assistant to the president of the American Federation of Government Employees, said the proposals for DHS and DOD employees are anti-employee.

"They are proposals that remove fairness and due process from the workforce," he said. "We see this as a proposal to lower future wage increases that ultimately will impact workers' standard of living and retirement."

He called the proposals, which include eliminating the government's 50-year-old General Schedule wage scale, "a frontal assault on all

the employees in the federal government."

DeWyngaert said he did not think the DHS delay was motivated by election-year politics, but in the case of DOD, he said officials are putting it off intentionally.

Mary Lacey, an engineer who is the program executive officer for the military's National Security Personnel System, said Pentagon officials' plans are moving slowly because they initially did not involve employees and other interested parties in the decision-making process.

Nevertheless, "we feel very strongly that the existing system is inadequate," Lacey said.

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Changing rules

Here are some of the proposed workforce changes for the Homeland Security Department and civilian employees at the Defense Department:

End the current General Schedule pay scale.

Replace it with pay banding, in which employees would be paid within a smaller number of pay categories.

Eliminate yearly seniority pay increases, replacing them with a pay-for-performance system.

Limit labor representation and appeals processes, replacing the process with an independent appeals board.

Overhaul the Senior Executive Service for high-level professional workers, eliminating annual raises and using performance measurements to award pay increases.

Source: Office of Personnel Management

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