As NSPS ends, employees wait for what's next

Details about how DOD's pay-for-performance system will end—and what will replace it—are still being worked out, experts say

Defense Department employees who are participants in the National Security Personnel System (NSPS) can do only one thing now—wait—after President Obama signed the fiscal 2010 National Defense Authorization Act on Oct. 28. The law includes a provision to end NSPS, a controversial system that links pay to a DOD employee's performance.

More than 200,000 DOD employees under the NSPS could revert to the more broadly used federal General Schedule (GS) system by 2012 under the law. The law requires DOD to start by next April on the orderly conversion of NSPS employees to another statutory pay system.

“The details are still to be worked out” on how the system will end and what exactly will come next, said John Palguta, vice president of policy at the Partnership for Public Service. “Frankly, that’s not spelled out in the law.” Meanwhile, the NSPS employees can wait in peace. “No one’s going to be hurt” as NSPS shuts down, Palguta said.

And some employees may even wait expectantly. An employee whose NSPS pay is between two GS levels, will move up to the higher level, Palguta said. “They may come out a little ahead,” he said.

Although employees may not lose money immediately, Darryl Perkinson, president of the Federal Managers Association, said it may not work out so well for all NSPS employees, especially those at the top of their GS pay scale. If an employee exceeds the overall pay scale, their regular pay raises may be stalled — partially or in full—until the whole GS pay increases to that amount, he said.

Officials need to have a serious discussion on how to properly pay people who did a good job in the NSPS system and earned their pay with good performance, he added.

As DOD ends its pay-for-performance system, experts also say the GS system also has problems. Employees who worked extra hard get the same pay increase as employees who do an average job, they say.

“The automatic system doesn’t get much favor either,” Perkinson said.

However, the law also offers a chance for DOD and the Office of Personnel Management to develop new regulations for the civilian workforce that includes “fair, credible and transparent methods for hiring and assigning personnel and for appraising employee performance.”

As DOD officials begin working out their strategy for moving ahead, the law also allows them to develop a new system in lieu of transitioning employees to the GS system. Any new system “would be required to guarantee collective bargaining rights and would not be permitted to cover prevailing wage employees,” the law states.

However, if DOD officials do develop a new system, they will likely need to get it approved by OPM, said William Bransford, general counsel for the Senior Executives Association. Simply transitioning back to the GS system also has problems, he added.

“Then what they have to do is find a job classification and grade level that is close to what an employee’s actual job is,” he said. “Some of these jobs have gotten away from the rigid GS classification system, so that could be a challenge.”

As DOD officials begin planning their next step, Palguta said employees should look to their service branch for the specific details on how those plans will be carried out. “They’re going to want to know,” Palguta said.

Despite its ultimate demise, lessons can be gleaned from NSPS, Bransford said. Getting input from all the stakeholders before the system was implemented would have helped, Bransford said.

“And another lesson is to not do these kinds of reforms piecemeal, like what was done with NSPS,” Bransford said. “These reforms should be done within the context of the entire civil service, not by individual agencies creating their own personnel systems.”

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Matthew Weigelt is a freelance journalist who writes about acquisition and procurement.

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Reader comments

Tue, Aug 17, 2010 Rose Virginia

While those effected by the NSPS conversion back to GS, there are those of us who were not placed under NSPS wonder where the fairness is altogether. Example, a position opens for a GS-11. A GS-5 who was under NSPS applies and because under that system she rated out higher in the conversion is eligible and gets the job. It doesn't seem right, a GS-5 gets approved thanks to NSPS because they rated out at a higher grade, yet, if you were not under NSPS and remained GS, they would not let you jump from a 5 to an 11. Maybe I don't understand how this all works, it just doesn't sound fair at all.

Wed, Mar 17, 2010 edward kelly va

I am Ya-02. my pay is at the mid level gs-9 position. My job PD is a 11 or 12, no one really knows at this point except that it is not less than a GS-11. my concern is were would i fall under the conversion?

Mon, Mar 8, 2010 YA-2 Norfolk

The problem I see if this: You have two employees $3 apart. One is $1 before step 8 and the other is $1 pass a step 8. The conversion process says the is a $1 over gets moved to a step 9 (a $2000-$3000 raised) and bypasses 3 years even if his rating was a 1 or 2. While the person that was $3 below him gets $2 to get to Step 8. Where is the fairness in that? If we did proration (money for time) going in then we should do proration (money for time) going out, which means if you are a $1000 over the step 8 then you should keep your salary plus a year or year in a half in towards the next step. I think it is the $1/$2 people who will be treated unfairly. The step 10s, end of a pay band, end of a salary band has the remained constant, no more pay when you are at the end; but the $1/$2 people will lose out going back in.

Mon, Jan 4, 2010 YA-2 California

As an "Exceeded" employee in NSPS with a performance average of 4, I still managed to fall behind my GS counterparts to the tune of over $2500 a year. Only thing I could come up with was the pay pool divided the pool by so many shares that the shares become worthless. 3 shares of my pool were worth less than 2 shares of my husband's pool. NSPS remains subjective and I can only hope the conversion back to GS will make up the difference in pay since it has a direct impact on my "high 3" for retirement.

Wed, Nov 18, 2009 Mac

Neither the GS or NSPS represent success stories. It is not the systems that are at fault, however. Many of our organizations simply lack the leadership, management, and supervisory integrity necessary to make either of these systems, or any other personnel system for that matter, work properly. Personnel systems are just tools. Systems do not create a core of professional mid-level managers committed to best practice HR management in an organization. Senior leaders do. Systems don’t assure that good supervision is the rule, and not the exception in an agency. Managers do. No system of job classifications, incentive rules, and requirements for documentation create specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timed performance objectives, and then use documented performance against those standards as an objective basis for evaluations and awards. Good supervisors do that. The problem is not the personnel system, it is the personnel. The problem is us. We are experiencing a crisis of integrity and character in the Government. As a rule, most of the people I see in my Agency are clearly engaged in self service, not public service. As managers we expand our staff, increase our scope of control, protect our turf, and get our next promotion through any means necessary - including ‘spoofing’ the personnel system with inaccurate job descriptions, incorrect job series, inflated grades, and nonsense performance plans. Is it any wonder, then, that we also actively resist any attempt to shine the light of accountability on our operations through the proper use of formal personnel management systems? As employees, we revel in our mistrust of management to the point of refusing to cooperate with any attempt, no matter how fair and equitable, to assign specific accountability to us in our performance plans. Then, with no way to objectively demonstrate our self-perceived ‘excellence’ we whine and complain about lost incentives, while our unemployed neighbors envy our basic salaries, job security, benefits, and paid time off. To think that the personnel systems available to us are the source of our problems is the height of self-delusion. The perceived need for NSPS surfaced because of failures in leadership and accountability throughout the Government. It is those underlying failures that we must address, or they will simply surface again in the next (post NSPS) system. Corporately and individually we are without excuse. We have all the tools we need. Its time to get to work.

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