The Pentagon plan to overhaul workplace rules for about 650,000 Defense Department civil service employees does not answer the big questions: What do the new salary scales look like, and where do employees fit in them?

Numerous Diary readers at Defense agencies across the country say they are eagerly awaiting "pay bands" in hopes that they will provide a clue as to their future compensation. Although the Pentagon has raised employee expectations -- and anxiety, in some cases -- it appears to be in a race against time to provide employees with more information.

Under the Pentagon plan, the initial wave of employees, some 65,000, will convert to the new pay-for-performance system in February. Pentagon officials expect to make that deadline, but they also acknowledge that many details remain to be worked out.

Under the plan, the National Security Personnel System will jettison the General Schedule, which has 15 grades and provides predictable pay raises, and replace it with broad occupational groups. Within these groups, Defense will set up pay bands, which probably will take in two or more of the old GS grades.

Many managers in test projects reported that pay bands make it easier to offer higher starting salaries and provide more flexibility to give raises to the best workers.

But details on the number of career groups and the number of pay bands for each career group remain under development. The pay bands will be described in "implementing issuances," the Pentagon's jargon for internal directives.

Before the Pentagon issues a directive, it has to clear a few hurdles. The final regulation for the NSPS, for instance, was issued this week, and that triggered a 30-day review period by Congress. Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and George V. Voinovich (R-Ohio), who oversee federal workforce issues in the Senate, probably will hold a hearing Thursday on the NSPS, aides said yesterday.

Once the 30-day congressional review ends, Pentagon officials will meet with union representatives to finish development of the pay bands and discuss implementing directives. The talks, however, may not be productive. Attorneys for the American Federation of Government Employees expect to file a lawsuit against the regulation in mid-November, contending that the Pentagon is trying to undermine collective bargaining and curb employee rights.

The Pentagon, in writing a final regulation, modified parts of its plan, including a section on performance management.

Because job performance ratings will determine the size of pay raises, the Pentagon said, it will give employees covered by union agreements two choices to dispute job ratings they consider unfair or inaccurate. Employees may use the grievance process outlined in their union contract -- such as arbitration -- or use an internal "administrative reconsideration" process, the final regulation said.

The first performance-based pay raises are scheduled for early 2007, officials said.

Pay Freeze?

Seven Republican senators have proposed freezing pay raises for federal employees, with the exception of law enforcement and military personnel, to help pay for government spending in response to hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

The pay proposal, given the cold shoulder yesterday by union leaders, would be part of a package that would reduce appropriations by 5 percent at domestic agencies and delay implementation of the new Medicare prescription drug benefit.

The offset package was announced Tuesday by Sens. Sam Brownback (Kan.), Tom Coburn (Okla.), Jim DeMint (S.C.), John Ensign (Nev.), Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.), John McCain (Ariz.) and John E. Sununu (N.H.). The plan is one of several being debated on Capitol Hill, and its prospects are uncertain.

The House and Senate have approved a 3.1 percent average raise for federal employees next year. The Senate has voted to block a 1.9 percent raise for members of Congress, but the House has not signaled any interest in giving up the raise.

Talk Shows

John Settle of SETTLEment Associates LLC will be the guest on "FEDtalk" at 11 a.m. today on and WFED radio (1050 AM).

Gwendolyn Sykes, chief financial officer at NASA, will be the guest on "The IBM Business of Government Hour" at 9 a.m. tomorrow on WJFK radio (106.7 FM).

"Rosa Parks: A Working Woman on the Hill" will be the topic of discussion on the Imagene B. Stewart call-in program at 8 a.m. Sunday on WOL radio (1450 AM).