DOD pay reform progresses

The House Government Reform Committee approved legislation May 7 that would revamp the Defense Department's civilian personnel system, creating a pay-for-performance structure for nearly 750,000 employees.

After a nearly six-hour debate, the committee passed the amended Civil Service and National Security Personnel Improvement Act (H.R. 1836), introduced by Chairman Tom Davis (R-Va.), by a 21 to 15 vote.

Among other things, the legislation abolishes the General Services schedule and establishes a pay-for-performance system in DOD that rewards good employees for their work, allows DOD to offer early retirement and separation pay, increases the Senior Executive Service pay cap, requires Congressional notification of decisions affecting the workforce, and makes it easier to hire experts from outside DOD.

The bill also authorizes a $500 million human capital performance fund proposed by President Bush in the fiscal 2004 budget to reward high-performing employees.

Provisions for NASA and the Security and Exchange Commission were also included in the bill. NASA would be allowed to pay bonuses to employees to fill critical positions, pay retention bonuses to certain employees, and establish an exchange program with industry among other provisions. The SEC would be able to hire accountants, economists and examiners faster.

"It's time to bring these three agencies — and ultimately the rest of the federal government — into the 21st century," Davis said in a statement after the committee passed the bill. "Without the ability to recruit and retain the best and the brightest employees, modernization will never become a reality."

Several amendments to the legislation were accepted by the committee including one introduced by Rep. Jo Ann Davis (R-Va.) that allows DOD to waive provisions that deal with performance appraisal systems, position classification, pay rates and pay systems, collective bargaining rights and due process and appeal rights — the same given to the Homeland Security Department — allowing DOD to establish a pay-for-performance system.

Another amendment introduced by Jo Ann Davis would allow the Defense secretary to write or rewrite personnel regulations without the consent of the Office of Personnel Management on matters "essential to national security" subject to the "decision" of the president.

Rep. Danny Davis (D-Ill.), meanwhile, introduced an amendment that would forbid the use of quotas or goals in public/private competitions. In another amendment, Rep. Tom Davis proposed that the quotas be allowed if they are based on considered research and sound analysis. Both passed.

"It really speaks to the fact that we have competent, hard-working highly skilled workers in the federal workforce," Danny Davis said.

Another amendment introduced by Rep. John McHugh and modified by Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) establishes an independent panel — which would include the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission — to hear employee appeals. "What we've tried to do. . .is give the secretary an independent board that can expedite some of these procedures," said Tom Davis.

Although the legislation passed the committee, many expressed concern over the speed and manner at which it is moving through Congress and the sweeping authority it allows DOD. "We're not operating on a bipartisan basis," said Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif).

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