DHS management directives spark union outrage

Federal workers unions lashed out Thursday at the Homeland Security Department over draft documents that will implement new rules on adverse actions, appeals and labor relations by the beginning of August.

Union officials said the management directives further reduce independent oversight for DHS disciplinary procedures. The directives also detail responsibility for various officials under the new system. For example, the DHS secretary will hold ultimate responsibility for the fair execution of the adverse action and appeals process. The undersecretary for management will be responsible for implementing operational guidance documents and establishing regulations to govern reprimand and adverse action files. Line supervisors and managers will be responsible for assessing performance and administering written reprimands and adverse actions.

The draft management directives were made public by the American Federation of Government Employees. AFGE officials said the measures do not reveal any startling information, but take another step in the controversial overhaul of the DHS personnel system.

"The directives aren't as disturbing as the regulations they are implementing," said AFGE general counsel Mark Roth. "We think that the underpinnings are illegal. Whether it's the chief human capital officer or the guy at the guard desk who implements these regulations, it doesn't change the fact that they are neither legal nor wise."

Agency officials said the management directives are not yet final.

When Congress created DHS, agency officials were allowed to develop their own personnel system. In January, Homeland Security leaders unveiled an overhaul that would streamline the appeals process, reduce union collective bargaining rights and discard the General Schedule pay system. In place of the GS framework, officials are implementing a pay-for-performance system. On Wednesday, five employee unions filed an injunction in federal court asking that implementation of the new personnel system be postponed until concerns can be addressed.

Some union officials said that the most troubling sections of the management directives are the steps to codify the revised appeals process.

"It's becoming an internal review process. Why are we making this an internal review process?" said Charles Showalter, president of American Federation of Government Employees National Homeland Security Council 117. "This society prides itself on people being able to face their accusers and do it in a public forum. The DHS regulations are trying to create these secret, inside, nonreviewable procedures."

The directives also contained information on the range of disciplinary options that will be available to managers, from written reprimands that carry no pay penalty to "suspension or removal in the interest of national security." In all, there are eight levels of disciplinary actions, including furlough of 30 days or less, reduction in pay, demotion, suspension, termination during a probationary period and removal.

Union officials said the new rules will undermine morale and workers' rights.

"It's the road map," Roth said. "It is how they are going to implement these draconian regulations."

On Wednesday, AFGE, NTEU and three other unions filed an injunction in federal court asking that implementation of the new system be delayed until questions about the legality of the rules can be addressed. Officials said Thursday that the court had not yet made a decision on the injunction.
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