Level of pushback on personnel system surprising, DHS official says

The Homeland Security Department's plans to switch from the General Schedule to a performance-based pay system have generated unexpected backlash from rank-and-file employees and unions, the department's outgoing personnel chief acknowledged earlier this week. But he touted the ongoing implementation of a new structure.

"The surprise is how much turbulence tends to be generated," said K. Gregg Prillaman, DHS' chief human capital officer. "Unions will probably not be happy, initially."

Prillaman, who tendered his resignation May 15 after less than a year on the job, made his comments in a speech before the National Academy of Public Administration Tuesday. He and David M. Walker, head of the Government Accountability Office, offered their perspectives on how to best coordinate the arrival of a new personnel system with a staff that is averse to the idea.

GAO switched to a market-based pay system at the beginning of 2006. Walker said that quarterly closed-circuit television addresses, combined with his willingness to personally take calls from the rank and file to answer questions, have helped his staff adjust to the end of the General Schedule system. That system, he added, shouldn't have been too revered by anyone.

"It was designed for the workforce of the 1950s," he said, adding that the jobs typically filled out at the base of any government department were "more clerical than knowledge-based."

Whereas GAO workers have no central union, DHS employees are unionized, and Prillaman said he sought to include unions in discussions as parts of the new performance assessment system were implemented. The department is scheduled to award the first wave of performance-based pay raises in January 2008.

Interviews with DHS employees revealed that many felt managers were not well-trained and that rank and file wanted clarification pertaining to their career paths, Prillaman told attendees of the NAPA conference. Younger workers generally like report cards, or management's recognition of where they have made strides, he said.

Prillaman added that he believes the court cases regarding labor relations aspects of the personnel system will be resolved within a few months.

Both Prillaman and Walker said delays should be expected in implementing new personnel systems and that re-evaluations of the system are necessary as it progresses. While current employee evaluations are based on a 50-50 results and competence measurement scale, Prillaman said, that could continue to change under the new system with results taking priority over competence in judging a worker.

As DHS' chief human capital officer, Prillaman also oversees recruitment at the department. In May 18 testimony before the House Homeland Security Committee, he acknowledged that hiring and retention are fast becoming problems.

Larry Orluskie, a department spokesman, confirmed that Prillaman himself will leave for "personal reasons" on June 9.

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