Compromise On Pentagon Pay System, Union Rights

By Stephen Barr
Monday, December 10, 2007

It's a compromise aimed at ending four years of controversy.

House-Senate negotiators unveiled legislation Friday that would restore collective bargaining rights to unions at the Defense Department, permit the Pentagon to go forward with new pay rules and perhaps ease the angst of many Defense employees.

The legislation would modify significant parts of the National Security Personnel System, a Bush administration effort that sought to sharply curb union rights at Defense and to more rigorously link annual pay raises of civilian employees to job-performance ratings.

The measure would guarantee that NSPS employees receive 60 percent of the annual pay raise that most other government workers get. The remaining 40 percent would be used for performance-related salary increases, allocated according to an employee's job rating.

The proposal may disrupt the Pentagon's plans for NSPS raises in January.

Under current rules, the defense secretary has had the discretion to set raises, and the Pentagon has announced plans to phase out across-the-board increases to employees covered by the new system.

For 2008, NSPS employees were scheduled to receive 50 percent of the government-wide raise, with the rest of their salary increase linked to job ratings. In subsequent years, all raises would be determined by job performance.

That announcement had created some anxiety for Defense employees, who, like many other federal employees, see the annual raise provided by Congress as a cost-of-living adjustment and worried that their pay might not keep pace with workers elsewhere in the government.

According to the legislation, performance payments would be paid as raises, not bonuses. The distinction is important to some employees, because bonuses do not count toward pension credits. NSPS employees also would be eligible for locality pay.

The legislation is part of the fiscal 2008 defense bill that authorizes weapons programs for the military and would provide the armed forces with a 3.5 percent pay raise next year. The House and Senate will probably vote on the bill this week and send it on to the president.

Administration officials declined to comment on the proposed NSPS modifications, saying they were studying the measure. Congressional aides said the NSPS changes have bipartisan support and predicted acceptance by the White House.

The House and Senate Armed Services committees write the authorization bill and typically do not spend much time on civil service issues. But that was not the case this year.

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