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Concerns and Questions Increase as National Security Personnel System Nears

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By Stephen Barr
Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Employees "are getting antsy," managers are facing extra work and the brass needs to fence off funding for performance-based raises.

Those were some of the concerns raised yesterday with Pentagon and Office of Personnel Management officials who are helping shape a new civil service system for more than 700,000 Defense Department employees.

The first wave of Defense employees is scheduled to convert to the National Security Personnel System in October and November, but many details about how pay and personnel rules will be applied remain unknown to rank-and-file workers.

Mary E. Lacey , the NSPS program executive officer, said employees will see the details on the system "in a couple of months," after publication of a final regulation. The details will include descriptions of pay bands -- the broad salary ranges that will replace General Schedule pay grades -- and rules for new practices, such as promotions within a pay band.

She acknowledged that the conversion to the NSPS "will feel like a burden in the beginning" to managers, but predicted that the burden would ease over time as managers and employees talk about job expectations and improve their workplace communication.

Roger M. Blanchard , Air Force assistant deputy chief of staff for personnel, said department officials are in talks with the Defense Department's comptroller on how to ensure that adequate money is available for pay raises for top-rated employees and how to track performance raises. Lacey said Defense agencies, including the military services, are committed to providing training on the NSPS to managers and employees.

The questions came at one of several sessions being held as part of a three-day Excellence in Government conference focusing on management and leadership. The conference is sponsored and organized by Government Executive magazine, the Council for Excellence in Government and the National Academy of Public Administration.

A number of Defense employees are eager to learn about the new system, and a number are anxious about what it will mean professionally and personally. Defense unions have filed suit to stop the NSPS because it includes provisions that will take key issues off the bargaining table and modify how employees appeal disciplinary actions.

The Defense Department received congressional approval to revamp its personnel rules on the grounds that more flexibility will aid the Pentagon in fighting terrorism and responding to emerging threats. In particular, the Pentagon is looking for ways to switch civilians into command positions and desk jobs that traditionally have been held by military personnel in an effort to create a "total force" that maximizes the number of war fighters. Officials believe the NSPS will make it easier to rewrite job descriptions of civil service employees and deploy them more quickly.

The linchpin of the new system is more rigorous evaluations of employees by their managers, feedback on how to improve their performance and using employee job ratings to determine pay raises. Officials contend that the NSPS should increase accountability and make it more difficult for senior managers to avert their gaze when they see supervisors and employees who are not pulling their share of the load.

At the same time, experts emphasize, employees must accept new performance measures and standards as fair, or the department could be hit with grievances and lawsuits from workers who object to job ratings that they believe have depressed their pay.

Lacey said a Web-based survey is underway to learn from employees what performance factors should be taken into consideration for ratings. Blanchard said agencies are going to have to dust off their strategic plans and show how organizational goals link to employees.

Managers, he said, are going to have to explain to employees that "you got this rating because you contributed this performance to this result, which helped us achieve this objective."

Executives to Meet

Clay Johnson III , the president's chief adviser on federal management issues; Linda M. Springer , director of OPM; and David M. Walker , head of the Government Accountability Office, are among the speakers scheduled for the Senior Executive Association's annual conference. The conference will be Sept. 21 at the Georgetown University Conference Center. For more information, call 202-927-7000 or go to http://www.seniorexecs.org/ .

E-mail:barrs@washpost.com.


© 2005 The Washington Post Company

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