Personnel rules to focus on results

In administration's proposal, seniority is out, performance is in

DOD site on job changes

President Bush plans to use sweeping workforce changes at the Homeland Security Department that give workers raises based on job performance, not seniority, as a model for the entire federal government.

"We think that the same opportunities to better manage our agencies exist" governmentwide, said Clay Johnson, the Office of Management and Budget's deputy director for management. Johnson spoke to reporters Jan. 26.

Office of Personnel Management officials are drafting legislation that Bush will forward to Congress after he submits his federal budget proposal Feb. 7, Johnson said.

The bill's language will generally conform to DHS' workforce flexibility regulations and similar regulations soon to be implemented at the Defense Department, he said. Officials at both departments plan to link performance to pay and make it easier to fire or transfer workers.

The new system should be applied consistently for all civil servants, federal officials say. The danger is that two federal government systems will emerge: "One with modern flexibilities, [and] one with not-so-modern flexibilities," Johnson said. Departments using the system — DHS and soon DOD — "are more attractive to potential employees," he added. But union officials reject that notion.

The system "will drive away the best and brightest, not attract them," said John Gage, president of the American Federation of Government Employees. Union leaders have already filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to prevent DHS officials from implementing some provisions that govern collective bargaining.

Meanwhile, lawmakers say the Bush administration should not act hastily.

"The personnel systems at DOD and DHS are experiments," said Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), chairwoman of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, which has jurisdiction over government reform. "I think it is prudent to see how these systems fare before deciding whether to expand the reforms to other federal agencies."

Under the DHS plan, employees will be grouped into eight to 12 clusters based on occupation, and workers will be assigned to one of four salary ranges or pay bands based on skills and experience. Moving up in pay will depend on receiving a satisfactory performance rating from a supervisor.

Departing OPM Director Kay Coles James said the new DHS plan will replace an "outmoded and unresponsive personnel system." The system will be launched in the fall, with pay and classification changes implemented the following year for some groups.

Employees' pay and benefits would not be reduced as a result of the new rules, and employees would retain their ability to organize and bargain collectively, DHS officials said.

Change is in the air

Homeland Security Department officials are planning to restructure the way employees are paid and promoted.

Among the proposal's provisions:

* A pay-for-performance program would replace the General Schedule. Employees would get raises based on their performance, not on seniority.

* Pay scales would reflect the cost of living, making it more likely that someone in North Dakota would be paid less than a person in New York City for the same job.

* Changes in collective bargaining would limit the number of situations in which such bargaining could be used.

* Adverse actions and appeals processes would be streamlined.

* New occupational clusters would be created with rules for assigning DHS employees to those clusters.

* Labor disputes would be settled by an internal labor relations board controlled by the DHS secretary instead of by the Federal Labor Relations Authority.

— Judi Hasson

About the Authors

David Perera is a special contributor to Defense Systems.


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