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Federal Diary

Unions Object to Pentagon's Proposed Civil Service Changes

By Stephen Barr
Thursday, March 17, 2005; Page B02

Acoalition of 36 unions representing Defense Department employees filed a 137-page objection yesterday to a proposed regulation that would overhaul how civil service employees in the department are paid, promoted and disciplined.

The United Department of Defense Workers Coalition said the Pentagon's plan was "unacceptably flawed" and rejected the proposed regulation "in its entirety."

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Federal Diary Page

The opposition was not unexpected. Ten unions filed a lawsuit in February to block parts of the regulation that would roll back union power to bargain over workplace issues.

But the coalition's objection, filed in the closing hours of the official, public comment period on the proposed rule, also sets the stage for the next round in the National Security Personnel System process -- "meet and confer" sessions in which Pentagon officials and employee representatives will try to narrow their disagreements over the proposed regulation.

The outcome of those sessions, which will take at least a month to complete, could help shape employee perceptions of the planned NSPS, which would jettison the 15-grade General Schedule in favor of a performance-based system that would give Pentagon managers more discretion in setting pay raises.

Defense unions have mounted an aggressive campaign against the NSPS, including demonstrations at some military bases and appeals to union members to speak out against the proposed regulation.

Yesterday, Mark Roth, general counsel of the American Federation of Government Employees, contended the public comment period had become "tainted." At a dozen military bases, he said, union locals were prohibited by base commanders or managers from holding meetings, putting up posters and circulating literature aimed at ensuring that employees knew that they could file comments in opposition to the proposed regulation.

"They tainted the comment period and made it ineffective for us," Roth said. "We were not fully able to utilize the 30-day comment period because they obstructed us." The Pentagon, he said, "may not have gotten a full range of comment because it was visible that they had taken the unions on, and it may have had a chilling effect."

Pentagon officials, however, noted that there are more than 1,500 bargaining units in the department and suggested that the AFGE complaint involved isolated incidents. As of yesterday, officials estimated they had received more than 35,000 comments on the regulation.

"These kinds of matters are generally handled through local labor agreements and past practices . . . where management considers union activities in light of day-to-day mission requirements," Brad Bunn, deputy program executive officer for the NSPS, said. "Generally the feedback we've gotten is that unions and management at our installations have worked together cooperatively to accommodate the union's desire to communicate its message to its members while ensuring that the mission gets done."

The 36 unions in the coalition -- which includes AFGE, the Metal Trades Department of the AFL-CIO, the Association of Civilian Technicians and the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers -- represent 50 to 60 percent of the Defense Department's civilian workforce.

In its comment paper, the coalition said it hoped the upcoming collaboration "will be a success." But a number of the coalition's suggestions, such as holding negotiations over pay, were previously rebuffed by the Bush administration when it created a new pay and personnel system for the Department of Homeland Security.

The coalition said both sides "have a mutual interest" in improving the handling of discipline and employee appeals of their punishment, but claimed the Pentagon is seeking to weaken union and employee rights.

The coalition repeatedly claims that the proposed regulation lacks examples or evidence that the NSPS would enhance efficiency or improve national security. The unions predicted that the new system will be "complex and costly" and will create "a new bureaucracy."

Xtreme Budgeting

The American Association for Budget and Program Analysis will hold its spring forum April 13, featuring Douglas Holtz-Eakin, director of the Congressional Budget Office, as a keynote speaker and a panel discussion on "Budgeting in Baghdad."

The forum's overall theme is "Budget and Performance -- An 'Xtreme' Sport." For more information, call Chris Lawson at 703-941-4300 or go to www.aabpa.org.

E-mail: barrs@washpost.com

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