Rumsfeld lobbies for personnel policy

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld today tried to persuade Senate lawmakers to give the department authority to overhaul how it hires, pays and manages its nearly 750,000 civilian employees.

Speaking before a Senate panel, Rumsfeld said that DOD "is bogged down in the bureaucratic processes of the Industrial Age, not the Information Age. The department's civilian personnel system is a case in point."

Rumsfeld told members of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee that during the war in Iraq, 83 percent of the civilians deployed into the theater of operations were contractors and 17 percent were civilian federal workers. In most cases, he said in his testimony, "the complex web of rules and regulations prevents us from moving DOD civilians to new tasks quickly."

As part of a legislative package sent to Capitol Hill April 11, DOD proposed to transform its civilian personnel system. Since then, the House has included and passed the provision as part of its fiscal 2004 DOD authorization bill.

On June 2, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and several cosponsors introduced the Senate version of the bill — the National Security Personnel System Act (S.1166). The Senate bill is similar to the House bill — for example it supports a pay-for-performance and pay-banding system for DOD, on-the-spot hiring and collective bargaining at the national level.

However, the Senate bill would maintain an employee's right to appeal an action to the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB), while the House bill does not. "Our bill calls for a gradual transition from the MSPB to a new internal appeals process and requires the Defense Department to consult with the MSPB before issuing the regulations creating the new process," Collins testified.

Also, the Senate bill does not grant the Defense secretary the authority to waive the collective bargaining rights of employees — although DOD has said it does not plan to do this.

Bobby Harnage Sr., national president of the American Federation of Government Employees, opposes DOD's proposed changes. "No one will be able to hold the secretary of Defense accountable for upholding the merit system principles if the legislation is passed; one must only hope and trust," he said.

In particular, Harnage said the current General Services pay schedule should continue to exist. Pay-for-performance is "easy to support in concept" but difficult to execute, he said.

David Walker, comptroller general, said that "human capital reform will be a key element" of any transformation program, adding that he hoped Congress would consider giving similar flexibilities — such as pay-for-performance — to other agencies as well. But agencies first should have the "organizational infrastructure" to handle the changes, Walker said. This would include a human capital planning process that integrates the agency's workforce policies.

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