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Federal Diary

Defense Moves From Listening to Meeting on Personnel System Changes

By Stephen Barr
Wednesday, March 16, 2005; Page B02

The period for commenting ends today. The period for talking begins tomorrow.

Today is the last day for submitting comments on a proposed regulation that would overhaul how civil service employees at the Defense Department are paid, promoted and disciplined. Tomorrow begins a minimum 30-day period for Defense to "meet and confer" with employee organizations, including a coalition of 36 unions.

_____More Federal Diary_____
Unions Object to Pentagon's Proposed Civil Service Changes (The Washington Post, Mar 17, 2005)
OPM Reports Increase in Spending on Performance Bonuses (The Washington Post, Mar 15, 2005)
Effort Renewed to Bridge 'Locality Pay' Gap for Foreign Service Officers (The Washington Post, Mar 14, 2005)
Defense Changes Breed Anxiety and Opposition (The Washington Post, Mar 13, 2005)
Federal Diary Page

At a hearing yesterday, senators left little doubt that they expect the upcoming talks to address the concerns that unions, employees and outside experts have raised about the proposed regulation, which will create the National Security Personnel System.

Sen. George V. Voinovich (R-Ohio), who called the hearing as chairman of the Senate subcommittee on government management and the federal workforce, told Bush administration officials that they are obligated to hold "an open dialogue and maintain a collaborative process with your employees."

He read an excerpt from a letter sent him by a Defense employee in Columbus, Ohio, who said she was concerned that her supervisor would have greater discretion over her pay raises and complained that her local managers could not answer questions about the NSPS.

Defense employees, Voinovich said, "must see that they have a valued role in the shaping of NSPS."

Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, recalled that during his Navy years, "I saw an almost seamless working relationship" between civilians and uniformed officers in support of Vietnam War efforts. Unlike other departments, Warner said, "there is an extraordinary camaraderie between the two groups" and suggested Congress may need to evaluate the stances taken by the Pentagon and the union "and see if we can reconcile the differences in such a way to make even a stronger team."

Sen. Daniel K. Akaka (Hawaii), the senior Democrat on the subcommittee, said the upcoming meetings between Defense officials and union leaders "must be more than the exchange of concepts developed around vague and general policy statements."

Akaka said he does not recall a single issue during his 28 years in Congress "that has generated more anxiety among federal workers in Hawaii than the NSPS."

Sen. Carl M. Levin (Mich.), the ranking Democrat on Senate Armed Services, suggested that Defense employees might lack confidence in the NSPS after seeing how the Pentagon handled pay raises for career executives this year.

In January, the Pentagon gave some political appointees a slightly higher pay raise than some career executives, even when they had the same performance ratings. Even though the Pentagon has promised that the NSPS will reward employees based on their job performance, Levin said the disparate treatment of some executives, based on political status, showed that "you are not living by that premise now."

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) said he favors efforts to improve federal management and suggested that Defense will gain trust by consistently rewarding good job performance. "You can't say here is the carrot and not give the carrot," he said.

Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) urged the department to reconsider a proposal that would give managers the leeway to counsel employees on their job performance without keeping a written record. If performance evaluations are in writing, Pryor said, the department will be able to ensure consistent treatment of employees and more easily settle disputes.

Charles S. Abell, principal deputy undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, and George Nesterczuk, a senior adviser at the Office of Personnel Management, testified that the NSPS will balance the interests of national security and employees.

Abell said the department has asked federal mediators to assist in the upcoming talks with unions. He told Voinovich that the department is committed to training employees and managers on their rights and responsibilities under NSPS. He assured Pryor that the department would require written records of employee performance evaluations.

The department's meetings with the labor coalition could be critical to a successful rollout of the initial stages of the NSPS this summer, David M. Walker, the head of the Government Accountability Office, told Voinovich's subcommittee.

"There are many, many details that have not been defined," Walker said. "The details matter."

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