A key senator who oversees federal workforce issues is trying to rescue funding for the personnel system overhaul at the Department of Homeland Security and keep the project on track.

Sen. George V. Voinovich (R-Ohio), in a letter to the chairmen of the Senate Appropriations and Budget committees, warned that a series of measures approved by the House "will jeopardize the department's ability to effectively implement and manage the new personnel system."

The department plans to roll out the first stage of the personnel plan, called MaxHR, this summer and hopes to start converting employees from the General Schedule to a market-based pay system in 2006. When completed, the personnel overhaul will likely be one of the largest workplace transformations undertaken by the government in decades.

Under the new performance management system, managers, supervisors and employees will set individual goals and show that they help the department meet its goals. Employees will receive clear direction on what is expected in terms of job performance and will be rated on how well they meet expectations. The job ratings will factor into annual pay raise calculations.

The department also plans to set up an internal labor relations board this summer to resolve disputes with federal unions. The personnel overhaul sharply limits the clout of unions in the department.

Opponents, including unions, have looked for ways to slow down the switch to the new pay and work rules. The National Treasury Employees Union, which is suing to block plans for the new labor relations procedures at Homeland Security, welcomed the House-passed measures and said they would shift funding away from "a new and unnecessary personnel system."

The House approved $96.1 million in reductions to the proposed budget for the Homeland Security undersecretary for management. The House directed that the funding go for state and local grants, firefighter grants, and grants to assist the states in meeting new standards for driver's licenses.

Under the House bill, the undersecretary for management, Janet Hale, would receive $49.9 million in fiscal 2006 -- about $101.1 million less than this year and $96.6 million less than the president requested in his 2006 budget.

In recommending its reductions, the House did not single out the new personnel system for a spending cut, but the $96.1 million hit on Hale's budget would probably slow its development. The administration is seeking $53 million for MaxHR, which would help cover development of a new performance management system and the technology to support it.

The Senate has not taken up a spending bill for the Department of Homeland Security. Voinovich wrote Sens. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), who chairs Appropriations; Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), the Budget Committee chairman; and Robert C. Byrd (W.Va.), the ranking Democrat on the Budget Committee, to urge full funding for MaxHR and Hale's office.

The new personnel system "represents a major step in efforts to build a cohesive department from 22 disparate agencies, and it must be a success," Voinovich wrote.

Asked about Voinovich's letter, Valerie Smith, a Homeland Security spokeswoman, said: "Full funding of our budget request would provide resources to attract, retain and reward a workforce that is critical to our mission. One of the great concerns of our workforce is that they receive training to understand this new system."

Retirements

Lawrence Davis, deputy chief for the office of resource management at the U.S. Coast Guard, retired Monday after more than 36 years of federal service.

Robert J. Epley will retire tomorrow from the Department of Veterans Affairs after 33 years of service. He is the associate deputy undersecretary for policy and program management in the Veterans Benefits Administration.

Robert P. McNamara, director of accounting at the Defense Finance and Accounting Service, will retire tomorrow after 35 years of federal service. A member of the Senior Executive Service, he began his career with the U.S. Army Audit Agency.

E-mail: barrs@washpost.com