House bill defunds parts of NSPS

Citing basic workers’ rights, Congress and courts denounce DOD personnel system

The House version of the Defense Department budget, passed June 20, defunds portions of DOD’s embattled National Security Personnel System that a federal court ruled illegal in February. NSPS, in its current form, would foster a workplace environment that “results in destroying basic worker rights and jeopardizes our ability to recruit and maintain qualified, skilled workers to protect our national security,” Rep. Jay Inslee (D-Wash.) said on the House floor.

DOD wants to replace the existing 15-grade personnel General Schedule with NSPS, a pay-for-performance system that could affect more than 700,000 DOD employees.

Inslee co-sponsored the defunding amendment to the fiscal 2007 appropriations bill with Reps. Walter Jones (R-N.C.) and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.). Inslee has been leading the congressional opposition to NSPS for some time. His district includes the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, which employs thousands of DOD workers.

DOD ignored the wording and spirit of the NSPS authorizing legislation that Congress passed in 2004, Van Hollen said. He characterized the amendment as a reaffirmation of congressional oversight.

In February 2006, U.S. District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan called the program “the antithesis of fairness,” when he ruled that certain parts of NSPS regulations were illegal.

He said NSPS “fails to ensure that employees can bargain collectively,” that the proposed National Security Labor Relations Board “does not meet Congress’ intent for independent third-party review,” and that “the process for appealing adverse actions fails to provide employees with fair treatment.”

DOD filed an appeal in April, and a group of unions, which the American Federation of Government Employees led, filed a cross-appeal in May.

DOD’s alleged exclusion of labor groups in crafting NSPS was a central impetus for the original lawsuit.

“Of course, money is important, but the other issue is the right to representation,” said Byron Charlton, chairman of the United DOD Workers Coalition, a group of 36 labor unions. DOD replaced the term “negotiation” with “collaboration” when dealing with union leaders, he said.

Nevertheless, DOD is moving forward with portions of NSPS unrelated to labor relations. Those include pay for performance, compensation, job classification and staffing rules. Spiral 1.1 of NSPS went into effect in April and included 11,000 DOD workers. The original plan to include 65,000 employees was reduced because of the litigation. The next phase, Spiral 1.2, is due in October.

NSPS is now being tested mostly with employees who do not belong to unions and are not covered by collective bargaining agreements.

Union leaders met with NSPS officials on June 28 to discuss the active parts of the program, but negotiators made no progress, according to several union leaders. At this point, prospects for bringing NSPS in line with workers’ demands are grim, they said.

Pending a complete redesign, NSPS should not move forward at all, said Ron Ault, president of the Metal Trades Department of the AFL-CIO. Money spent on the current NSPS framework is a complete waste, Ault said. “It’s like going out and buying a car you can’t drive.”

The Government Accountability Office is currently conducting a six-month review of NSPS to determine total costs.

DOD officials and union leaders are courting senators to avoid a similar amendment when the Senate marks up its version of DOD’s budget later this month. The union’s strategy focuses on the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee. Sens. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) and Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) are the prime targets of attention, according to union sources.

NSPS: A timeline

Feb. 14, 2005: The Defense Department publishes draft regulations to create the National Security Personnel System.

Nov. 1, 2005: DOD publishes final regulations for NSPS in the Federal Register.

Nov. 7, 2005: DOD unions sue to block portions of NSPS regulations.

Feb. 27, 2006: A court rules that DOD officials did not properly consult with the unions.

April 30, 2006: NSPS adds the first 11,000 nonunion employees — mostly human resources staff and upper-level managers.

— Josh Rogin

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