MaxHR is out.

Human Capital Operational Plan is in.

The name change at the Homeland Security Department reflects a new set of priorities aimed at improving how thousands of Border Patrol, customs and immigration officers are hired and how career leaders are chosen and trained.

But the name change -- from trendy branding to prosaic government jargon -- also can be taken as a symbol of how one of the Bush administration's signature efforts to shake up the federal workforce lost momentum because of overly ambitious goals, adverse court rulings and budget cuts.

The shift to the new plan means that a key goal of the Bush White House -- to use about 110,000 Homeland Security employees as a model for a rigorous pay system with raises linked to job performance ratings -- will not be completed before the presidential election in 2008, leaving it to a new White House team to forge on or abandon that effort.

Marta Brito Pérez, who became the department's chief human capital officer five months ago, called the decision to adopt a new workforce management plan "the right thing to do."

"It should be reassuring to the employees, employee representatives, the Hill and the public," she added.

Instead of pushing forward on a department-wide performance-based pay system, Homeland Security will set up a pilot project in 2008 focused on the department's employees who work in intelligence. The pilot will be coordinated with a pay initiative being developed by the director of national intelligence for the government's primary intelligence agencies.

Because intelligence analysts are in high demand across government, the pilot project should help the department stay competitive in hiring and pay while also providing a test of Homeland Security's new performance management system. That system calls for developing job goals for employees, tracking their accomplishments and using job ratings to steer larger pay raises to the best workers.

"There was a conscious decision that this organization needs to have a good performance management program in place before pay can be linked to it," Perez said. "We have to get this right."

If the pilot goes well, the department in 2009 could move to the next step: shifting employees off the 15-grade General Schedule, a decades-old pay system that the Bush administration faults as giving too many automatic pay raises to federal workers, and into "pay bands" where salaries are more closely tied to occupation and geographic location.

But changing pay rules at Homeland Security may prove difficult. Federal unions have won court rulings that block the department's efforts to limit their bargaining rights, and the department will probably have to negotiate with unions over the design and implementation of a new pay system.

The unions and some employees are skeptical about revamping pay practices, in part because they believe giving managers greater discretion over raises will let them play favorites or use pay decisions to single out employees for punitive actions.

Under the new plan, known as HCOP, the department will focus on hiring and retaining a talented and diverse workforce, creating a "culture of performance," creating high-quality training programs and improving leadership development programs.

Pérez said the department is not jettisoning MaxHR, which kicked off in February 2004. "We are moving beyond Max in areas that are keys to our success," she said.

Still, she acknowledged in an interview, "every time someone mentions Max, their eyes roll," apparently because it has become tainted by union lawsuits or because it is no longer seen as living up to its catchy name.

"We're not going to be using the term MaxHR anymore," Pérez said. "Folks around here don't seem to like it. It is not reflective of the things we are doing."

Stephen Barr's e-mail address is