The Defense Department is not the worst place or the best place to work in government, according to an index released last month. The index pegged Defense at No. 15 out of 30 ranked agencies.

The department scored poorly on pay, benefits and family-friendly policies but better than average in such categories as teamwork and leadership, according to the Partnership for Public Service and American University's Institute for the Study of Public Policy Implementation. Yesterday, Gordon R. England, acting deputy secretary of defense, announced that the Pentagon had wrapped up an ambitious plan he called "a win for our employees." With its plan, he said, the department has a chance to create "a very dynamic and satisfying environment for our employees."

The plan, in the making for 18 months, would dramatically change how 650,000 Defense civil service employees are paid, curb union rights and streamline appeals by employees facing demotions and other severe disciplinary actions.

Members of the American Federation of Government Employees, one of the largest unions at Defense, are skeptical -- and many have been from the first time they heard about the plan.

"The rank and file in Columbus, Ohio, is very scared," said Patty Viers, who represents employees in Defense accounting and supply operations. Ohio employees are worried about possible changes that would determine who goes and who stays during layoffs and about rules that would link pay raises more rigorously to job performance, she said.

Keith Hill, an AFGE member who works at the Tobyhanna Army Depot in Pennsylvania and will soon go to Afghanistan to repair computer equipment, said the Pentagon has not provided employees with compelling reasons of why changes are needed in pay, appeals and union rights. "We fought long and hard to get the protections we have, and they are being stripped away," he said.

Within the next few days, AFGE, joined by a coalition of labor organizations, will be in court seeking to block the Pentagon's plan, contending that the plan undermines collective bargaining. The court battle could be long and may throw Defense off its timetable, which calls for pay and performance management changes to start next year.

England said the department formally notified Congress yesterday afternoon that it will file its final regulation today to create the National Security Personnel System. The notification gives Congress 30 days to review the regulation.

The department will launch new labor-management rules after the 30-day period ends, assuming no delays caused by union litigation. Starting in February, the Pentagon will roll out the first phase of its pay-for-performance system. The first phase will cover 65,000 employees, followed by an additional 48,000 in the spring and 120,000 in September and October.

Under the NSPS, the department will have "the opportunity to provide an environment for our people to excel, to be challenged and to be rewarded. . . . I continue to believe that the vast, vast majority of our people will embrace NSPS," England said.

Many of the details on how the NSPS will work and what it means to employees will not be known until the department begins issuing directives to implement the plan. Some of the directives will void parts of labor contracts, further roiling unions.

England said the department will spend the first half of next year in "a learning process" so that employees can adjust "before it really counts."

He added: "If we have problems, we'll stop and adjust. . . . We want the system to work right for everyone."

Public Service Forum

Four key players shaping the future of the civil service will participate in a panel discussion Wednesday that will be moderated by Patricia McGinnis, president of the Council for Excellence in Government.

The council announced that the panel members will be John Gage, president of the American Federation of Government Employees; Clay Johnson III, deputy director for management at the Office of Management and Budget; Colleen M. Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union; and David M. Walker, comptroller general and head of the Government Accountability Office.

The event is being sponsored by the council and The Washington Post. For more information, go to or call 202-530-3242.