Pentagon to Review Pay-for-Performance System

By Joe Davidson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Pentagon yesterday suspended plans to move additional civilian workers from the traditional General Schedule employee classification to the controversial National Security Personnel System.

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

The system has been widely criticized by federal employees, who distrust the personnel evaluations used as part of its pay-for-performance approach. Critics also fear that the system could, at some point, hold down wages for civilian military personnel.

"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 J. 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."

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

Those stakeholders probably will include organized labor, which has relentlessly criticized 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.

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

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

Some union leaders welcomed the review but said the move does not go far 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 taxpayers' 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," he added.

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