Pace of workforce change picks up

As federal officials expand their plans to modernize the federal workforce, they say they have much to do, including trying to fix the hiring system, making it faster and creating rewards for performance, not seniority.

Dan Blair, acting director of the Office of Personnel Management, emphasized those changes and the federal government's hiring needs in a speech April 25 at the Government Performance Summit in Washington, D.C. He said the changes would happen slowly, even though they are needed immediately.

"With the immense size of the government, with the many complexities and variety of scenarios, it is not happening overnight," Blair said. "Nothing does. But things are moving faster today than ever before."

Bush administration officials are modernizing the federal workplace based on the President's Management Agenda, which is "enabling us to make real progress and produce real results," Blair said.

But time is not on the government's side. Defense Department officials are trying to implement new workforce rules this year for DOD's civilian employees. Homeland Security Department officials are also initiating new workforce rules that will throw out a framework designed 50 years ago.

Unions representing workers at both departments have filed lawsuits stating that the rules are unfair and limit collective bargaining rights. Beyond that, many experts say it will take years to change a culture entrenched in the concept of staying at a job for life.

Union members say the new rules strip federal employees of bargaining rights and remove avenues to appeal unfair decisions. The new regulations "provide a unique and virtually unattainable standard for employees to meet in challenging agency determinations" about disciplinary matters, said Colleen Kelley, president of the 150,000-member National Treasury Employees Union.

The rules, she added, "create a system that is neither fair, credible or transparent — all critical elements if [DHS] is to succeed in its mission."

David Walker, U.S. comptroller general, told lawmakers recently that proposed DOD workforce changes raise questions. "DOD is challenged in its efforts to effect fundamental business management reform, such as [National Security Personnel System] ...and our ongoing work continues to raise questions about DOD's chances of success," he said.

Walker said DOD officials have a lot of work ahead to implement their system, "including such issues as adequate safeguards to help ensure fairness and guard against abuse."

Playing by new rules

Federal managers face significant changes in workforce rules meant to expedite federal hiring and create a flexible workplace. The top three challenges they face are:

  • Instituting new workforce rules for the Defense Department's civilian employees and all Homeland Security Department employees.
  • Responding to union lawsuits protesting DOD's and DHS' new workforce rules.
  • Dealing with questions the comptroller general has raised about the fairness of DOD's new workforce rules.
  • — Judi Hasson

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