DHS HR team sets fall target

The Homeland Security Department team that is designing a new personnel system said July 25 it would issue its recommendations in October that could change the way 180,000 workers are paid and promoted.

The senior review committee held its first public meeting to discuss options for overhauling the department's personnel policies. It is looking at job categories, salaries, merit pay and giving DHS more flexibility to hire and deploy workers in an emergency.

"We want to design a 21st century personnel system that is ... flexible, fair and accountable to the American people," said Janet Hale, DHS undersecretary for management.

Hale said the group wanted to make sure employees are hired on merit and held accountable for their work. Since April, the team has been studying the federal workforce at DHS, which pulled together employees from 22 disparate agencies in the biggest federal reorganization since 1947.

The team, which includes officials from DHS, the Office of Personnel Management, academics and labor unions that represent federal workers, would deliver their recommendations to DHS Secretary Tom Ridge and OPM Director Kay Coles James, who will make the final decision on the new personnel rules.

Raymond Bonner, DHS commissioner of customs and border protection and a team participant, said the task is complicated by different job categories that are now under the department's single umbrella. For example, he said there are three different groups of employees at the borders — Customs, Immigration and Border Patrol — with different job descriptions, salaries and objectives.

He said a new human resources system would make it easier for DHS to carry out its mission and hold people accountable as well as "reward and recognize extraordinary performance."

"It also means the ability to weed out the corrupt and the incompetent from government," Bonner added.

In the last three months, the design team conducted a series of 10 focus groups around the country to find out what federal employees wanted. The focus groups supported collective bargaining rights at DHS and recommended training supervisors before adopting a new system.

The design group is considering pay-banding where the current 15 levels of pay would be consolidated into four or five salary ranges and managers would have greater discretion to set salaries. But the focus groups said they did not understand how it would work or if it would be fair.

Bobby Harnage, president of the American Federation of Government Employees that represents 600,000 federal workers and a member of the panel, said it is important to make sure workers have good pay and benefits.

"We know there are a lot of efficiencies out there. We know it can be done better ... and we want to be part of designing it," Harnage said.

In working on its plans, team members said that changes should be adopted only if there's money available and only to improve it.

"No well-run company in the private sector would make changes in its personnel system except to the extent that those changes would be cost-effective. And certainly, no well-run company would change its systems for purely ideological reasons," team members said in one report.

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