By law, the Transportation Security Administration will not be covered by the new system. And pay for members of the Senior Executive Service will be determined under a new government-wide pay-for-performance system for career executives.
The new system is an outgrowth of 2002 legislation that created DHS from 22 disparate federal agencies. President Bush, resistant to early entreaties by Democrats to create the department after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, eventually embraced the idea -- but insisted on freedom from many existing civil service laws in assembling the new bureaucracy. Bush officials said that the old rules were outdated and too restrictive and that the government needed a more "flexible" workforce to fight terrorism.
"We're not rushing into it," DHS Secretary Tom Ridge said.
Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (D-Conn.), one of the law's key sponsors, said yesterday that the new system is an improvement over earlier drafts but still "will undermine key employee protections that prevent workplace abuses and improve employee performance." He also called the limits on collective bargaining "excessive."
Union officials have long contended that the administration's goal was to limit the influence of organized labor rather than to improve homeland security. They said yesterday that the new restrictions on collective bargaining go beyond legal bounds set by Congress in the 2002 law.
Yesterday, union leaders decried provisions that would curtail the power of labor unions by no longer requiring DHS officials to negotiate over such matters as where employees will be deployed, the type of work they will do and the equipment they will use. They also object to provisions that would limit the role of the independent Federal Labor Relations Authority and hand the job of settling labor-management disputes to an internal labor relations board controlled by the DHS secretary.
The system also calls for limiting to about three months an employee discipline and appeals process that now can take much longer to complete. And while employees would still be able to protest what they regard as unfair treatment before the independent Merit Systems Protection Board, the board would have more limited authority to overturn managers' decisions.
"These regulations were designed to ensure there is no outside judgment of what goes on within the department," said Colleen M. Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union.
Kelley and Gage said the new pay system will give rise to managers rewarding favored employees at the expense of others who are doing a good job. Gage also called it "a scam to reduce overall pay."
Regulations outlining the new system are to be published in the Federal Register within days, officials said.