Homeland brings changes

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"Good management"

Legislation to create the Homeland Security Department contains provisions that may weaken civil service protections for the 170,000-plus employees in the new department. But it is too early to assess the impact of these provisions.

In the meantime, however, there's been little mention of personnel provisions contained in the legislation that affect all other agencies. These changes are designed to give federal managers more "flexibility" in hiring and managing staff.

There are eight governmentwide personnel provisions in the homeland security bill — some of which I like and others I don't.

1. Federal agencies can use categorical ranking to accelerate the hiring process and "improve the quality" of candidates. This allows job applicants to be divided into groups based on how qualified they are. Managers then pick employees from the top group. Agencies can use categorical ranking instead of the "rule of three," which requires managers to choose one of the top three candidates their human resources staff recommends.

I don't understand how categorical ranking improves the candidates' quality. The quality of candidates is a function of the recruitment effort, not the selection process.

I think the new method just makes it easier to preselect a candidate. Under the new system, the hiring official can hire the bottom person in the highly qualified group. How has the quality of those hired been improved? To me, it sure looks like it has declined.

2. Agencies will be required to appoint "chief human capital officers" to oversee workforce management. Sounds like a good idea, maybe a new Senior Executive Service slot for some.

3. Agencies will be required to incorporate workforce planning into their strategic plans. Congress is trying to legislate management practices again. Won't it ever learn?

4. Agencies won't have to recertify their senior executives every three years. Bad idea. Gives these guys a free pass.

5. Agencies will be able to provide transit subsidies to student volunteers. Isn't there anything more important the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee can focus on?

6. Agencies will be able to offer buyouts to employees without eliminating any positions in their agencies. So now if a manager wants to get rid of you, you can name your price.

7. The annual total compensation limit on senior executives will rise from $166,700 to $192,600. Senior executives also will be eligible for higher bonuses. Great news. Your boss really deserves it, right?

8. Agencies will have greater latitude in paying for employees' higher education costs. Sounds good.

Zall is a retired federal employee who since 1987 has written the Bureaucratus column for Federal Computer Week. He can be reached at milt.zall@verizon.net.

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