Senate panel takes its turn at Pentagon personnel overhaul

The Senate Governmental Affairs Committee stepped into the fray Tuesday over plans to overhaul the Pentagon's management of some 730,000 civilian employees.

By a 10-1 roll call vote, the panel approved a bipartisan measure giving the Defense Department flexibility to change the personnel system. But the committee stopped far short of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's proposal for a more radical overhaul.

The measure (S. 1166) gives the Pentagon some key features of Rumsfeld's request. It allows him to organize a new pay system, quickly hire personnel and conduct collective bargaining at the national level, rather than through local unions. It also allows a pay-for-performance system for determining salary changes.

The House has approved a measure (H.R. 1836) that is closer to Rumsfeld's plan and has included it in the House defense authorization bill (H.R. 1588). Governmental Affairs Chairwoman Susan Collins, R-Maine, said she would attempt to reconcile her committee's bill with the House measure in the defense authorization conference if the Senate does not act on the committee plan.

The Senate bill, for example, does not give the Defense Department authority to bypass the Merit Systems Protection Board on employee appeals, and does not give Rumsfeld authority to waive collective bargaining rights.

"We have attempted to strike the right balance between promoting a flexible system and protecting employee rights," Collins said at a June 4 hearing on the legislation. The leader of a federal labor union said Collins' bill was better than the House version. "It goes without saying that while all of our issues with regard to the Pentagon's egregious attack on the DoD workforce were not addressed in S. 1166, it is still a far superior alternative than that of the [House bill]," said Greg Junemann, president of the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers.

Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., offered an amendment clarifying collective bargaining procedures to the bill. It passed by voice vote.

Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio, also amended the bill on a voice vote to exclude some defense research centers and laboratories from the personnel system set up by the bill.

Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., cast the lone vote against the measure. He said the bill would change a system that has produced a "pretty good workforce" and criticized the timing of the measure when it is difficult to recruit military reserves and other personnel.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly attributed a statement from Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, to Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn. CongressDaily regrets the error.
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