Uncertain future

When most people think of a government job, they think of job security and protection against unfair labor practices such as wrongful termination. They also think about the right to appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) if their rights are violated. It looks as if the employees of the new Homeland Security Department can kiss most of those rights goodbye.

The legislation that established the new department removes an employee's right to appeal to the MSPB. Although the legislation says that "merit systems principles" will govern the behavior of the new agency, what can a fed do if he or she feels that those principles are not being honored?

Employees can file an internal appeal, but it is highly unlikely that they would get a fair hearing from the same agency that they claim is violating merit systems principles. If you can't file an appeal with the MSPB, you're at the end of the line. It's not a very pretty picture, but that is what seems to be in store for employees of the new department.

Another troublesome development is that the department will not be required to maintain a performance appraisal system, which determines who is promoted and who gets raises, awards and other performance-based tangibles.

Without such a system, managers will be able to promote whomever they want and employees will have no basis for complaint. Not a very encouraging picture, is it? In addition, adverse action procedures and appeal rights have gone with the wind.

The legislation calls on the department's leader, in consultation with the Office of Personnel Management, to create a system that is "flexible" and "contemporary" and that upholds merit systems principles, such as fitness for duty and nondiscrimination. Will the procedures established by the department's leaders be fair and provide federal employees with a comfortable work environment? Your guess is as good as mine, but I wouldn't bet on it.

Let's not forget that the leaders of the new department have the freedom to ignore existing civil service law in the areas of pay and promotion; performance appraisals; job classification; collective bargaining; adverse personnel actions, such as suspensions; and the appeals processes for resolving workplace disputes.

OPM must submit a plan to Congress within 90 days of the bill's enactment on options for simplifying the collection of compensation arrangements available to employees of the 22 agencies that will become part of the new department.

President Bush claimed that more flexibility was needed by the new department for national security reasons. Now I ask you, do you see any connection between national security and denying an employee the right to appeal if he is suspended or not selected for a job he is qualified for? If you do, please let me know.

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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