Unions say NSPS rules could hurt DOD employees

The Defense Department failed to get employee buy-in when it developed proposed rules for the National Security Personnel System, labor unions charge.

Defense Department civilian employees could be worse off under proposed rules for the National Security Personnel System, according to federal labor unions.

The Defense Department and the Office of Personnel Management issued proposed regulations last month for NSPS that included modifications to the system’s compensation structure and its performance-management processes.


The new rules are intended to bring NSPS into line with changes that Congress made to the new compensation system in the defense authorization law for fiscal 2008. The law included language that restored collective bargaining rights and appeal rights to workers covered by NSPS and exempted blue-collar workers from switching to the system.

In formal comments on the proposed regulations, the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers (IFPTE) conceded that “some basic rights” were restored to employees covered by NSPS. However, the union said DOD’s proposal is “sorely lacking in many areas and still does not comply with the intent of Congress.”

IFPTE said Congress "fully intended" for DOD to involve employees and bargaining units in the development of NSPS, but "DOD has, yet again, made the choice to ignore congressional intent by refusing to garner employee buy-in of this system. DOD failed to negotiate, as required, with recognized unions prior to publishing [the proposed rules].”

Officials at the American Federation of Government Employees said the new rules prove that DOD “is less than sincere in making [NSPS] fair and transparent.”

Among the unions' points of concern were:



  • Performance payouts. Under the new rules, two employees can get the same performance rating but not get the same pay adjustment, the unions say. “Working behind closed doors, supervisors and managers will decide who gets more performance pay,” making the system vulnerable to favoritism and personal biases, they said.



  • Control points or maximum pay caps. The new rules let DOD create and adjust pay caps to manage compensation. According to the unions, this creates “a glass ceiling” that can prevent one employee from advancing to the top of a pay band no matter how strong his or her performance rating is while another employee in the same pay band can move to the top.



  • Promotion/reassignment. The proposed rules let supervisors reassign an employee to higher-level duties and authorize a pay increase of up to 5 percent without competition — thus unfairly eliminating other employees from competing for what amounts to a new position, the unions say.



  • Scope of bargaining. Although the 2008 law restored collective bargaining rights to employees, the new rules “appear designed to limit the scope of bargaining” on definitions affecting rates of pay and other areas, the unions assert.

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