DHS sticks to pay system goals

It’s shaping up to be a busy summer at the Homeland Security Department as officials plan to push forward with personnel-management improvements that they hope will bring DHS’ human resources system into the 21st century. 

The bulk of the effort still lies ahead, according to a recently released assessment by the Office of Personnel Management. In the report, OPM criticized DHS for not being further along in implementing its alternative personnel system.

OPM officials say having a strong system is essential for DHS, which was formed in 2002 by the merger of 22 federal entities. DHS is trying to bring those cultures together by way of a new system that has five basic components: classification, pay, adverse actions/appeals, labor relations and performance-based management.

DHS officials have opted to focus on the performance-based management component first, said Paul Schneider, the agency’s undersecretary of management, during testimony at a May 10 Senate subcommittee hearing on DHS management issues.

The agency has trained more than 3,000 supervisors to develop performance measures and administer the new component, Schneider said. Efforts to continue expanding coverage are steadily moving forward, he added.

“This program is an integral part in the department’s strategy for building a single, unified DHS,” Schneider said.

In its assessment report, OPM praised DHS’ plan for implementing the
performance-based program but criticized the agency for not moving forward with the other components.

“DHS should have taken the opportunity to implement the remaining systems,” the report states.

The report also criticizes DHS’ slow progress on implementation. The performance-based management program covered fewer than 10,000 of the agency’s nearly 110,000 civil service employees as of April.

Furthermore, the report cites DHS’ poor showing in OPM’s most recent Federal Human Capital Survey. “Employee commitment to the organization has decreased since the performance management system was implemented,” the report states.

Given the slow progress, OPM recommended that DHS create and dedicate resources to a program management office to ensure faster progress. “This would provide higher visibility and keep senior leaders engaged while sending a message about the importance of the effort,” the report states.

Marta Brito Perez, DHS’ chief human capital officer, disagreed with some of the report’s findings in an April 17 letter to OPM Director Linda Springer. Perez said the report did not recognize DHS’ extensive work in preparing for the implementation of the personnel system’s other components.

“The conclusions…create the incorrect impression that DHS has done little to prepare for the implementation of the remaining areas” of the new personnel system, Perez said.

DHS is committed to moving forward with the implementation effort in the next several months, Schneider said. During that process, the agency will keep in mind one of the few bright spots in the Federal Human Capital Survey: employees’ passion for the agency’s mission. Nearly 89 percent of DHS employees said they believe the work they do is important.

“This is a strong foundation upon which to build and improve,” Schneider said.

Tarallo is a freelance writer in Washington.

OPM gives DOD thumbs upThe Defense Department has had its share of management challenges in recent years, but the agency fared better than the Homeland Security Department in a recent assessment of its new pay system by the Office of Personnel Management.
 
The OPM report reviewed DOD’s progress in implementing its version of an alternative personnel system, the National Security Personnel System (NSPS), which includes a performance-based, market-sensitive pay system.

DOD received authority from Congress to create NSPS in 2004. The agency created an NSPS Program Executive Office to guide the implementation. As of April, about 112,000 of DOD’s 700,000 civilian employees were covered by NSPS.

OPM praised DOD’s implementation in the report. “DOD has structured a well-organized and phased implementation approach,” the report states. Establishment of the PEO has been key to implementation success, the report adds.

In response, Mary Lacey, program executive officer for NSPS, said key stakeholders would carefully review the report.

“The report’s main value to us is transparency and affirmation of the approach we have taken to implement the system,” Lacey said in a letter to OPM Director Linda Springer.
— Mark Tarallo
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