House tries to defund pay system

Despite lawmakers' attempt to further derail the Defense Department's National Security Personnel System, DOD officials say they are undaunted by the efforts.

A group of three House members, two Democrats and one Republican, inserted language into the House version of the fiscal 2008 Defense Department appropriations bill earlier this month that would prohibit funding for key portions of NSPS.

Reps. Jay Inslee (D-Wash.), Walter Jones (R-N.C.) and Chris van Hollen (D-Md.) introduced an amendment Aug. 4 that would stop DOD from using money in the measure for any actions that involve waiving or altering sections of the U.S. Code that deal with government employee performance appraisals, labor/management relations, adverse actions against employees and labor dispute resolution. NSPS, when fully implemented, would put in place new procedures in those areas.

The House passed the legislation, with the amendment, while the Senate is expected to debate the DOD spending bill after the August recess.
DOD, however, has not implemented the labor-relations portions of NSPS, which are tied up in court.

'In fact, we're not even spending any money to prepare to implement them at the moment,' said Mary Lacey, program executive officer for the program, at a breakfast in Washington sponsored by Government Executive magazine.

In May, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit reversed a ruling last year by a lower court that found that parts of NSPS were illegal. In its 2-1 decision in the case, the appeals court said the way NSPS was designed provided appropriate due process and protections for employees. A coalition of unions representing DOD employees has asked the appeals court to reconsider its decision.

Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld proposed NSPS as a centerpiece of his efforts to transform DOD to meet 21st-century threats. He envisioned the pay system as an alternative to the 50-year-old civil-service plan for paying employees based on their length of service. Instead of steady, predetermined increases, pay raises under NSPS would depend primarily on supervisors' evaluations.

Federal employee unions are opposed to NSPS, arguing it would restrict workers' rights and introduce favoritism among managers in compensating subordinates.

Jones, in a speech Aug. 4 on the House floor, called NSPS a 'misguided endeavor.' He pointed to a recent Government Accountability Office report that detailed cost issues in implementing the system.

In the July 16 GAO report, auditors found the military has been underestimating the cost of implementing the new personnel system. In addition, GAO said the amount DOD already has spent on implementing NSPS during 2005 and 2006 cannot be determined because there is no mechanism to track those costs.

The American Federation of Government Employees hailed passage of the Inslee amendment.

'We are confident in today's action,' John Gage, national president of AFGE, said in a statement Aug. 6. 'We have no doubt that in the end, DOD employees will be treated fairly and in a just manner.'

Meanwhile, DOD is making headway in implementing portions of NSPS, Lacey said. 'We're well into the implementation.'

About 113,000 civilian employees, mostly those in white-collar, general service positions, are now covered by some NSPS provisions, Lacey said. About 10,000 of those workers received the first compensation adjustments under the new system in January.

The average pay increase was 3.7 percent, but the 'highest performers' merited increases of 10 percent to 11 percent, she said.

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