DOD calls time out to simplify NSPS

National Security Personnel System memo

Editor's Note: This story was updated at 10:45 a.m. Jan. 20, 2006, to reflect that the Defense Department was scaling its initial implementation plans back from 65,000 to 11,000, not from 300,000 as we originally reported.

The Defense Department has hit the brakes on implementing the National Security Personnel System (NSPS), its controversial new pay system and workplace rules. Citing a need to respond to feedback from DOD employees, supervisors and union leaders, NSPS program executives temporarily halted training classes designed to teach the basics of the new system. They also scaled back their initial implementation plans.

NSPS program executives “need more time to focus on simplifying the performance management design, getting performance objectives right and ensuring the system is simple, clear and understandable,” said Mary Lacey, NSPS program executive officer, in a Dec. 23, 2005, memo to NSPS program managers. DOD authorized only one organization, the Naval Sea Systems Command headquarters, to proceed with NSPS training and provide feedback to the department.

Gordon England, acting deputy Defense secretary, said last October that if DOD encountered problems as it was implementing the new rules, it would slow down the program. Since then, DOD has encountered problems with the design of its performance management objectives, and it needs to fix those before proceeding, Lacey said.

In her memo, Lacey advised the program managers to proceed with training courses designed to teach leadership, communications and similar skills. But she said it would be foolish to proceed with NSPS-specific training until DOD officials “take the time to do this right.”

In scaling back its initial implementation plans, the department announced this week that it would shift only 11,000 rather than 65,000 civilian employees to NSPS for the first performance rating cycle under the new pay system. That shift will occur April 30.

Army Pentagon officials responded to the slowdown by asking managers to continue NSPS activities related to reviewing job classifications and creating pay pool rules and new compensation policies.

In a statement on behalf of 260,000 DOD civilian employees, the national president of the American Federation of Government Employees said DOD cannot afford the $75 million or more that it might cost to move the first 300,000 employees to the new pay system. “At a time when our troops are fighting for their lives and need every possible resource, implementing this severely flawed and incomplete system would be a grotesque misuse of taxpayer dollars,” said John Gage, the union’s national president.

DOD expects to eventually shift about 700,000 civilian employees to the new personnel system.

Legal challenges from AFGE and other unions could further slow DOD’s implementation of the system. The first hearing in an AFGE-led lawsuit challenging the legality of NSPS is set for Jan. 24 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

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