DOD plans to link pay and performance

Defense Department officials will change their civilian personnel system during the next few years, affecting how hundreds of thousands of civilian workers are hired and paid.

Pentagon officials are preparing to use a new kind of pay and job classification system for 600,000 civilian employees.

The first phase of the National Security Personnel System (NSPS) is called Spiral One, which will affect 300,000 U.S.-based Army, Navy, Air Force and DOD agency civilian employees and managers. It is scheduled to start next summer as one of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's initiatives to transform the military to better meet 21st-century needs.

The system will be a "simplified personnel management system that will improve the way we hire and assign, as well as compensate and reward, our employees," said Mary Lacey, program executive officer for NSPS.

It also will provide DOD with a "modern, flexible and agile human resources system that can be more responsive to the national security environment while enhancing employee involvement, protections and benefits," Lacey said in a Dec. 14, 2004, letter to workers.

Lacey and other officials say the current system needs to be improved because it is more than 50 years old. It sets pay scales based on specific skills and gives raises based on seniority rather than merit. DOD officials intend to begin giving merit raises later this year.

NSPS would give Rumsfeld more flexibility in hiring, classifying, paying, promoting and firing employees. It would bypass aging employee management policies and make it easier to hire technical employees and scientists, often some of the most difficult people to find and retain.

Rules for the new system will be published first in the Federal Register. There will be a public comment period before final rules are implemented.

Aspects of the system already have drawn union protests. Pentagon officials have indicated that they want to limit appeals and reduce collective bargaining powers.

A coalition of more than 30 national unions representing DOD employees is keeping an eye on activities in the coming months to make sure workers do not lose benefits. They have held rallies nationwide.

"If the government is truly interested in changing some of the antiquated or burdensome procedures that reduce DOD's global effectiveness and its ability to accomplish critical mission requirements, working with unions that represent DOD workers is the best way to succeed with such a monumental undertaking," said Jim Hoffa, general president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

Banding together

Defense Department officials are proposing a major overhaul of the personnel system for their civilian employees. Under an approach known as pay banding, they would abandon the General Schedule pay grade system that covers most federal employees in favor of assigning DOD's civilian positions to broad occupational groups and pay levels.

Officials would also establish minimum qualifications for positions. They argue that the approach would simplify the process of classifying and filling jobs.

In addition, pay raises would reward performance rather than seniority.

— Judi Hasson

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