Pentagon Puts Controversial Personnel Plan on Hold

By Joe Davidson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, March 16, 2009 3:41 PM

The Pentagon has temporarily stopped moving civilian employees from the traditional General Schedule -- or GS -- employee classification structure to the controversial National Security Personnel System.

Under pressure from federal employee unions and members of Congress, and facing a skeptical commander in chief, the Defense Department announced today that it and the Office of Personnel Management will undertake a review of the NSPS.

The system has been widely criticized by federal employees who distrust its personnel evaluations under its pay--for--performance plan. Critics also fear that at some point the system could hold down wages for civilian personnel.

During last year's his election campaign, President Obama said he would "strongly consider a complete repeal" or at least an extensive overhaul of NSPS. The announcement did not mention the president, but it did say "with new leadership under a new administration, DoD and OPM will engage with key stakeholders in examining NSPS."

Those stakeholders likely will include organized labor, which has long been relentless in its criticism of the system. And last month, two key members of the House Armed Services Committee told Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates that the agency should halt any more conversions to NSPS.

A letter to Gates from Chairman Ike Skelton (D-Mo.) and Rep. Solomon P. Ortiz (D-Tex.), chairman of the readiness subcommittee, said the system has generated "widespread distrust and discontent within the ranks of the hundreds of thousands of dedicated DOD employees."

Today's announcement said 2,000 employee conversions planned for this spring would be halted pending the review. About 205,000 workers have been moved to NSPS since it was implemented in 2006.

"This administration is committed to operating fair, transparent, and effective personnel systems, and we are undertaking this review to assess whether NSPS meets these objectives," said Deputy Secretary of Defense William Lynn. "We recognize that varying viewpoints exist regarding NSPS, and given the scope and complexity of the system, it is important for leadership to conduct its own review of the program."

As far as unions leaders are concerned, the review is good, but not quite good enough.

"We are still committed to repealing NSPS this year," said Richard N. Brown, president of the National Federation of Federal Employees. "We have all the information we need to demonstrate that NSPS is a flawed personnel system and a huge waste of tax-payers' dollars. We are glad to see that DoD and OPM are reviewing the program, but we aren't going to let that stand in the way of our effort to repeal the personnel system this year. NSPS was never meant to be a good government personnel plan. It was designed to eliminate federal employee unions and suppress Defense workers' pay. Our mind is made up, NSPS needs to go."

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