Mary Lacey brokers pay changes

Program executive leads DOD through a difficult personnel system transformation

The Mary Lacey file

Position: Program executive officer for the National Security Personnel System.

Job description: Lacey leads the policy and program management office, which is responsible for the design, planning, assessment and implementation of NSPS.

Career history: Before her appointment as PEO in 2004, Lacey was technical director at the Naval Surface Warfare Center. She started her career with the Navy Department in 1973 as a Federal Junior Fellow working at the Naval Ordnance Laboratory. Lacey has been active in Navy academic, industrial and technology partnerships across the Naval Sea Systems Command.

Education: Lacey earned a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Maryland at College Park, where she also completed graduate work in control systems and explosives.

Awards: She has been awarded the Presidential Rank Meritorious Executive Award, the Navy Superior Service Award, the Navy Meritorious Civilian Service Award, the Navy Women in Science and Engineering Lifetime Achievement Award and the 1999 University of Maryland Distinguished Engineering Alumna Award. She also is on the Board of Visitors at the University of Maryland School of Engineering.

Management power players

Gregory Junemann, president of the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers.

With Junemann at the helm, IFPTE guided analysts at the Government Accountability Office through a successful union-representation election in September.

Max Stier, president and chief executive officer at the Partnership for Public Service.

A forceful proponent of workforce reform, Stier and his organization produce the influential biannual “Best Places to Work in the Federal Government” survey with American University’s Institute for the Study of Public Policy Implementation.

Marta Perez, chief human capital officer at the Homeland Security Department.

Perez is a persistent champion of workplace innovations to attract and retain the best and brightest employees.

As program executive officer for the National Security Personnel System, Mary Lacey is leading the transformation of pay rules and labor/management relations that affect the Defense Department’s 740,000 civilian employees. The implementation of NSPS is arguably one of DOD’s greatest internal challenges.

For Lacey, a member of the Senior Executive Service and three-decade veteran of the department, leading the design and deployment of NSPS has been a roller-coaster ride. In 2006, more than a year into the program, a U.S. District Court judge struck down rules related to collective bargaining, labor relations, independent third-party reviews and adverse actions.

In May, however, the U.S. District Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit overturned the lower court’s ruling. The American Federation of Government Employees and the United Department of Defense Workers Coalition, representing about 600,000 DOD workers, have vowed to take the case to the Supreme Court.

Despite the court challenges, the department has, by most accounts, made significant strides in deploying NSPS under Lacey’s leadership.
“NSPS is one of the one of the biggest and most ambitious [human resources] program changes in decades,” said Max Stier, president and chief executive officer at the Partnership for Public Service. “The progress made to date in implementing NSPS and in achieving positive results is directly attributable to Mary’s leadership, persistence and openness.”

About 113,000 civilian workers — mostly in white-collar positions — are covered by NSPS rules governing staffing, job classification and performance management. About 10,000 workers have already received their first performance-based paychecks, Lacey told a National Press Club audience in August. “It’s well into the implementation.”

Nonetheless, Lacey faces formidable hurdles, this time from Democrats in Congress, who are seeking to pass legislation that would nullify the management/labor relations portions of NSPS, which have not been implemented.

Lacey’s stature as DOD’s kingpin in the push for fundamental workforce reform doesn’t mean that she takes an imperious approach to managing NSPS. On the contrary, as a career federal executive with more than 34 years in government, Lacey “understands how absolutely critical it is to get the ‘people part’ of any organization right,” Stier said.

She also brings a hands-on management style to the job. John Priolo, retired president of a Federal Managers Association chapter in Hawaii, described Lacey’s efforts to communicate the details of NSPS to FMA members as accommodating and insightful.

Indeed, officials at DOD’s labor unions, despite their indefatigable opposition to NSPS, are inclined to agree. “We’ve always viewed Mary as a very reasonable and fair person — very competent and very dedicated to her job, [DOD’s] mission and to the national security of the U.S.,” said Matt Biggs, legislative director at the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers, a member of the United DOD Workers Coalition.

“Having said that,” he added, “it’s unfortunate that a person of her high character and her strong support of the DOD workforce has to be in charge of putting together a system that the evidence and history has been shown to be fueled by ideology and not by the best interests of DOD or the taxpayer.”

Lacey said she believes unions and management must form partnerships so DOD can successfully meet its national security mission. “In the long run, we’ve got to move [forward] together,” she said.

“I think she does believe that,” Biggs said. “Her rhetoric and actions have proven that to be the case. She is management. But she does want to work with the workers to put together good personnel policies at DOD.”

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