The Department of Homeland Security, nose to nose with a coalition of federal employee unions in an arm-wrestling match over the department's new personnel system, has appealed a federal judge's ruling that found parts of the system illegal.

In August, U.S. District Judge Rosemary M. Collyer faulted the new system for undermining employees' rights to collective bargaining and halted implementation of new rules governing labor relations and employee appeals. Collyer found that the system fell short of guaranteeing collective-bargaining rights because the DHS could override any provision in a labor agreement simply by issuing a department-wide directive.

Five unions, including the National Treasury Employees Union and the American Federation of Government Employees, had filed a lawsuit to block the system, which would curb the power of unions and more strongly link pay raises to annual performance evaluations. Late last week, the DHS asked a federal appeals court to overturn Collyer's decision.

"We believe that these regulations are entirely consistent with the provisions of the Homeland Security Act," the 2002 law that created the department, said Larry Orluskie, a DHS spokesman. "They reflect critical flexibilities that Congress and the president gave the department to meet its homeland security mission."

Colleen M. Kelley, president of the NTEU, said yesterday that she was disappointed that the department had decided to appeal rather than seek a compromise.

-- Christopher Lee