DHS unions blast HR system deal

Department of Homeland Security

Union representatives criticized a multimillion-dollar Homeland Security Department contract for a new personnel system as excessive in a time when the agency isn't hiring.

Northrop Grumman Corp. will provide overall integration and program management for the human resources management system, including implementing an enterprisewide information technology system. The one-year blanket purchase agreement is valued up to $175 million with two one-year options.

"It just totally defies logic and sanity," said Mark Roth, general counsel for the American Federation of Government Employees, which represents about 25,000 to 30,000 DHS employees.

Agency officials have imposed a hiring freeze for border officers for the past six months, he said. DHS already has employees with the expertise to design a system that includes pay for performance, labor relations, employee appeals and performance management, Roth said.

"This is not rocket science and it certainly is not a $175 million worth of contractual expertise," he said. "I'm saying in this case, not only does the emperor has no clothes, he's got no brains. They might as well burn the money. What are they thinking?"

Department officials said they have an opportunity to create a modernized system to respond to mission needs while retaining and rewarding the best employees. Designs began when the department was formed more than a year ago -- combining 22 agencies and about 160,000 employees -- and officials have sought employee input.

Colleen Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, which represents about 15,000 DHS employees, said the contract's award took her by surprise. According to Kelley, DHS officials told union representatives last October that they would be fully engaged in the ongoing design of the personnel system. But that hasn't turned out to be the case, she said.

"I think they're in a hurry," she said. "They have artificial timelines that they've put on themselves. And they realize they're behind and they see -- I think wrongly so -- the unions as slowing down their rush to this artificial timeline."

DHS officials also denied the unions' request to work on teams with Northrop Grumman, Kelley said, adding she will talk with DHS Secretary Tom Ridge about the matter if need be.

Department officials are meeting with union representatives this week about the proposed system and regulations, and have been engaging the unions on this issue, according to a department spokesman.

Although Jeffrey Zack, Northrop Grumman's director of enterprise solutions, couldn't respond to union comments, he said the contract's ceiling is $175 million, meaning DHS won't necessarily spend all that. It will issue specific task orders depending on what needs to be done.

"Probably the biggest challenge -- and this is what we faced in even other agencies that were not being brought together -- is just the culture change of getting to show people what's in it for them and why they should change," he said.

Several subcontractors are also being used, including Watson Wyatt Worldwide, a consulting firm with expertise in strategic workforce management, and BearingPoint Inc., which will help seamlessly integrate the new system into the department's enterprise architecture. DHS also will replicate best practices of automated systems in other agencies, Zack said.

Department officials are trying to create a model personnel system and officials at other agencies are going to take notice, he said. "The opportunity here with DHS is a clean sheet of paper," Zack said. "I really do think that it's a high probability this is the beginning of the overhaul of the way government does human resources."

Unions will scrutinize the development and also will talk with congressional representatives about the matter, Roth said, but he added: "The bottom line is [DHS officials have] a constitutional right to mismanage until they're thrown out."

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