DHS will press for HR changes

End of litigation doesn't end the department's efforts to address performance evaluation

In February, the Homeland Security Department abandoned controversial labor relations portions of its new personnel management system — the Human Capital Operations Plan. With that decision, DHS effectively ended litigation over the proposed changes, which federal labor unions opposed.

DHS officials said they can now move forward on implementing the human resources management system. On March 25, the department named an acting chief human capital officer, Bray Barnes.

DHS faces challenges as it prepares for the transition to a new administration next year. Union officials have said they still plan to fight various aspects of the department’s human resources management system, including its performance management and job classification features.

Gregg Pelowski, a career federal service employee, is the department’s deputy chief human capital officer. Federal Computer Week reporter Ben Bain interviewed Pelowski about the next steps in the department’s implementation of its new personnel management system.

FCW: Why did DHS decide not to go forward with the labor relations portion of the Human Capital Operations Plan?
PELOWSKI: Congress was pretty specific in the 2008 appropriation bill that they want us to focus our attention on addressing the challenges of morale in the department. The reductions in that budget didn’t allow us to do a lot of different things, and in a transition year, we want to focus on the most important things and not get caught up in continuous litigation.... It’s not so much picking your fights as much as where you want to focus your attention.

FCW: With more than 200,000 employees at 22 agencies, how do you attract the right workers for different kinds of roles?
PELOWSKI: HR tends to focus on those same areas: recruit, retain, grow, develop and having the means to process things effectively. Certain organizations, based on size and maturity, have more robust, mature applications, others less. So part of my job is helping to connect the dots and bring them all up together. What we are really excited about is our e-recruitment system, which we think is going to give us that core, end-to-end, seamless visibility of the entire process.

FCW: Labor unions have said that they plan to resist other portions of DHS’ new labor management system. Could that stymie the process going forward?
PELOWSKI: I like to believe that in a collaborative fashion we can work through any issues. It really requires educated collaboration, trying to reach those common grounds, trying to understand our differences and how we can push through those. I would dare to say that both management and labor will always agree that we want to hire the right people for the job.

FCW: Because DHS is such a new agency and there aren’t long-defined career paths, how do you encourage the idea that this is a place that they want to work for 20 or 30 years?
PELOWSKI: Once they are part of the department, you want to do everything you can to keep those valuable employees as part of the department, even if it means [letting an employee move] from the Transportation Security Administration, which has high hiring demands, to Customs and Border Protection. TSA might look at that as a loss, in losing someone to CBP, but from a department perspective we look at that as a gain — we didn’t lose them to outside competition.

FCW: What will be the biggest challenge in transitioning to a new administration?
PELOWSKI: Quite frankly, from what I’ve seen in our engagement, we are wel l ahead of everybody else. We’ve been very careful not to wait until the last minute; we looked at it and really defined what those critical positions were that we needed for continuity.

FCW: Is there resentment or tension between political appointees and career employees in the department?
PELOWSKI: I think people will find that [DHS is not] heavily laden with politicals, that we really have the right mix and they are in the right locations. And in focusing on transition and maturing as an organization, we continue to seek the right balance between political executives, career executives and noncareer politicals and the like.

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