Counterpoint: A missed opportunity
- By Colleen Kelley
- Mar 21, 2004
An important aspect has been largely overlooked in the considerable analysis of the impact on an agency and its employees regarding a proposed new human resources system for the Homeland Security
In its headlong rush for unaccountable control, DHS has missed an extraordinary opportunity to revitalize government personnel processes in balanced ways. At a time when DHS is still developing its organizational values and culture, it is proposing to practically cut its workers out of the process.
Proposing regulations that effectively gut employee due process rights and turn away from real collective bargaining only jeopardizes the agency's critical need to build a valued and respected workforce.
The proposed changes in pay, labor relations and employee due process rights for DHS send ominous signals not only for agency employees but also for
fulfillment of the agency's mission. Similar to the DHS employees we represent, the National Treasury Employees Union does not believe that radical changes are needed for the pay and performance systems.
The basic structure of the General Schedule is sound. NTEU recognizes that positive changes could be made to the pay system that would also serve to emphasize and enhance performance.
Rather, DHS wants to implement
an untested pay banding plan based largely on managerial discretion. There is no evidence that such plans work effectively.
In labor relations, DHS would effectively bar meaningful employee involvement in vital workplace
matters. It is hard to understand why. Collective bargaining provides the forum for employee perspectives and insights to be aired — and frontline employees have the best view of how the work actually gets done.
More broadly, apparently it isn't enough for DHS to curb employee bargaining rights. The agency also wants to eliminate the role of the independent Federal Labor Relations Authority and funnel any disputes into the hands of a three-member internal board appointed by the DHS secretary. That is neither appropriate nor wise. A true system of collective bargaining requires an independent third-party determination of disputes.
Finally, according to the DHS proposals, employee due process rights would be gutted. Employees would not have the right to ask an impartial arbitrator to consider serious adverse actions against them. For those disciplinary matters that could be taken before the Merit Systems Protection Board, a significantly lower burden of proof for DHS makes it much more likely that managerial decisions on discipline will prevail, whether justified or not.
The board would no longer be able to modify agency-imposed penalties, thus preventing this impartial body from directing the agency to change unreasonable penalties. And DHS officials are proposing to allow their secretary to determine an unlimited number of offenses that require mandatory termination, without access to an independent review of the charges.
Employees must see a successful human resources management system as fair, credible and transparent. In these three key areas, and in others, DHS proposals fail to provide for such a system.
Kelley is president of the National Treasury Employees Union.