DOD pay system challenged

Union lawsuit and start-up costs could delay conversion to new system

DOD's National Security Personnel System

The Defense Department's new personnel rules -- the most significant changes in years -- will cover 700,000 civilian employees by November 2009 if everything goes according to schedule. But DOD faces obstacles that could delay the implementation beyond 2009.

Personnel regulations that followed the 1978 Civil Service Reform Act changed the status quo, but not as much as the National Security Personnel System (NSPS) will change the civil service, said John Palguta, vice president of policy and research at the Partnership for Public Service, a nonprofit organization that promotes government service.

Employee union officials say a sweeping overhaul of federal pay and labor relations laws was unnecessary when smaller changes could have made the existing laws more flexible.

"Under the current General Schedule and wage-grade pay system, there isn't a lot of flexibility with respect to starting pay and those types of things," said Mark Gibson, a labor relations specialist at the American Federation of Government Employees, a union representing 260,000 civilian employees at DOD. However, Gibson said, current federal pay and labor laws provide considerable flexibility in many other areas. But only the best managers bother to use that flexibility.

DOD leaders say NSPS will give them the flexibility they need to create a cohesive workforce of military personnel, civilian employees and contractors. For example, NSPS lets managers identify military positions that they can convert to civilian positions.

Gibson said NSPS gives poor managers too much flexibility and employees too few protections.

Ten federal employee unions detailed their objections to NSPS by filing a lawsuit Nov. 7 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. According to the lawsuit, DOD blocked the unions from meaningful participation in developing the new regulations. It also states that NSPS establishes unlawful labor relations and employee appeals procedures.

DOD has estimated that it will spend about $158 million in the next three years to implement the new regulations, which does not include the cost of training employees and supervisors to use NSPS. A centralized fund will pay for creating a National Security Labor Relations Board, operating an NSPS Program Executive Office, reprogramming automated payroll and human resources information systems and designing training materials to explain how the new system will work.

Bush administration officials have not yet found legislative sponsors for a proposal to introduce similar personnel changes governmentwide.

Drew Crockett, deputy communications director of the House Government Reform Committee, said that with respect to pushing for governmentwide personnel changes along the lines adopted by DOD and the Homeland Security Department, committee chairman Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) favors "less extensive, common-sense personnel reforms."


3 ways to get ready for NSPS

The National Security Personnel System (NSPS) will transform the way the Defense Department assigns, pays and promotes its civilian employees. The transition to the new system will take several years, but DOD recommends that supervisors prepare for the changes now by:

  • Meeting frequently with employees to discuss organizational goals for the year and how their work contributes to meeting those goals.
  • Giving employees timely feedback on their work.
  • Visiting the NSPS Web site ( often for updates on training in how to use the new system.

Source: Defense Department

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