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Federal Diary

Pentagon and Unions Set Talks for Hot-Button Civilian Pay Changes

By Stephen Barr
Thursday, March 31, 2005; Page B02

Pentagon officials and union leaders will begin meeting April 18 on proposed pay and personnel system changes for about 746,000 civil service employees at the Defense Department, according to a letter sent this week to Congress.

In a sign that the talks likely will be highly contentious, the letter says that the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, an independent agency that helps agencies and unions narrow their differences on workplace issues, is joining discussions in hopes of expediting possible agreements on the proposed changes.

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The letter, dated Monday, was signed by Navy Secretary Gordon R. England, the Pentagon executive in charge of the personnel changes, and Dan G. Blair, acting director of the Office of Personnel Management.

The Pentagon and OPM issued a proposed regulation Feb. 14 that would create the National Security Personnel System for civilian employees of the Defense Department. NSPS would toss out the 15-grade General Schedule and more closely link pay raises to job performance ratings; roll back union rights; and speed employee appeals of disciplinary action.

As part of the process for creating the NSPS, Congress set up a minimum 30-day "meet and confer" period between the Pentagon and unions to discuss possible modifications to the proposed regulation before it becomes final.

According to the letter, the Pentagon has received comments from 12 national labor groups and the United Department of Defense Workers Coalition, which represents 36 unions. In general, the unions reject the proposed changes or call for "some significant revisions" to various parts of the regulation, the letter says.

This month, the coalition called the Pentagon's plan "unacceptably flawed." In February, 10 unions filed a lawsuit to block the parts of the regulation that would ban bargaining on certain matters, such as deployment of employees, assignment of work and the introduction of new technology in the workplace.

Plans call for union leaders and Bush administration officials to meet next week on ground rules for the system-change discussions. The closed-door meetings will be in the Washington area.

NSPS officials plan to roll out the opening stage of the system change in three phases over 18 months, starting in July. About 60,000 civil service employees at Defense bases across the country have been selected for the first phase.

SES Vacation Change

An interim regulation published this week provides members of the Senior Executive Service and others in senior-level positions with 26 vacation days a year.

Previously, SES and senior-level employees accrued vacation at varied rates, with new employees receiving 13 days of vacation annually. The change will make the government more competitive in recruiting midcareer, private-sector professionals who typically receive more than 13 vacation days a year.

OPM issued the interim regulation this week, but noted that the new policy is retroactive to October, when the president signed the Federal Workforce Flexibility Act, which was sponsored by Sen. George V. Voinovich (R-Ohio).

According to the regulation, SES and senior-level employees will accrue annual leave at the rate of one day for each full biweekly pay period "without regard to their length of service in the federal government."

OPM said it is extending the new vacation policy to employees covered by equivalent pay systems, such as the Senior Foreign Service and senior intelligence services.

OPM will accept comments on the interim rule through May 20, according to the notice published in Monday's Federal Register.

Performance and Pay Workshop

The Federal Section of the International Public Management Association for Human Resources will sponsor a half-day workshop on "Managing Performance and Pay for Results" April 19 in Washington.

Speakers will include Donald J. Winstead, a deputy associate director at OPM, and Richard Ray, the Treasury Department's program manager for organizational development and change.

For information, go to www.ipma-hr.org or call Shannon Nicko Adaway at 703-549-7100.

E-mail: barrs@washpost.com

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