The Department of Homeland Security, which last month was on the losing end of an important federal court decision concerning its new personnel rules, announced yesterday that it will delay implementation of its new pay system by as much as one year.

By January 2007, several thousand employees of the department's headquarters, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center, the Secret Service and the U.S. Coast Guard will switch from the familiar 15-grade General Schedule pay system to one with broad salary ranges known as pay bands. The shift had been scheduled to occur by January 2006.

The department mentioned the change in an internal newsletter e-mailed to employees yesterday. It gave no reason for the delay.

Bush administration officials have argued that the changes in pay and personnel rules are necessary to make the federal bureaucracy more nimble and responsive in the fight against terrorism and, more generally, to improve government efficiency.

Federal employee unions have challenged parts of the new plan in court. Last month U.S. District Judge Rosemary M. Collyer faulted the new system for undermining employees' rights to collective bargaining, and blocked implementation of new rules governing labor relations and employee appeals. DHS has not said whether it will appeal the ruling.

Colleen M. Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, which represents 14,000 employees at the department and has taken the lead in the lawsuit, said the new system needs to be reworked, not just delayed. "I'm pleased to see that DHS agrees that it is nowhere near ready to begin moving on this unwise proposal," she said in a statement.

In case Hurricane Katrina didn't get the message across, the Department of Homeland Security has joined forces with 190 organizations and 56 states and territories to increase public awareness about the importance of preparing for emergencies.

It's all part of the second annual National Preparedness Month. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and Bonnie McElveen-Hunter, chairman of the American Red Cross, kicked off the month Sept. 1 with an emergency preparedness fair at Union Station. That was three days after Katrina tore through the Gulf Coast, shattering lives and making national headlines.

"The devastation and tragic loss of life caused by Hurricane Katrina earlier this week reinforce the urgency of our coalition's work," Chertoff was quoted as saying by the department's internal employee newsletter.

Chertoff urged Americans to get an emergency supply kit, make a family emergency plan and learn more about how to respond to emergencies in their communities.

-- Christopher Lee