Congress withholds millions from DHS personnel system

Lawmakers last week cut millions of dollars in requested funding for the Homeland Security Department's new personnel system.

After House-Senate negotiations, the two bodies settled on $25 million for the system in fiscal 2007. That figure, which was included in the DHS appropriations bill conference report completed Thursday and approved late Friday by the House and Senate, is less than the $71.5 million requested in the president's budget and the $29.7 million Congress gave the system last year.

DHS' personnel system, authorized by Congress in 2002 when it formed the department, will feature a market and performance-based pay approach to replace the decades-old General Schedule under which most civil servants work.

According to DHS budget documents, the $41.8 million extra for fiscal 2007, which started Oct. 1, would have been used in part to create 29 positions. This included six spots on the Homeland Security Labor Relations Board, which would take the place of the Federal Labor Relations Authority in adjudicating labor-management disputes and is highly contested by federal unions. DHS said the extra money also would go toward centralizing human resources functions and hiring, placement and training initiatives.

The entire personnel system has been delayed by a court case initiated by unions in which a panel of judges said the proposed labor relations portion of the system was illegal because it did not provide for adequate collective bargaining rights. Most recently, DHS lost its last avenue for appeal when the solicitor general declined to bring the department's case to the Supreme Court. Without labor reforms, DHS has been unable to bring its unionized employees into the human resources system.

Right now, about 4,000 nonbargaining unit employees are working under the new performance management system. This month, the department plans to bring about 6,700 more managers and supervisors in the Citizenship and Immigration Services agency and the Customs and Border Protection bureau into the program.

Eventually, 110,000 employees are scheduled to work under the personnel system. DHS originally had planned for 48,000 employees to enter it by early 2007.

Colleen Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, one of the unions that sued DHS, called the funding cut "a major victory, both for NTEU and the dedicated men and women of DHS." Federal employee unions have fought the system because they say it will encourage cronyism and salary cuts in the long term.

In budget request documents, DHS said the $41.8 million would go to the Office of the Chief Human Capital Officer "to continue implementation of the human resources system initiative...[that] rewards employees for their contributions to the mission of the department, not simply for longevity."

Department officials did not respond to a request for comment. The cuts came the same week lawmakers blocked funding for the Defense Department's similar labor system.

In the NSPS language, lawmakers said no money could be spent on changes to labor-management relations, adverse actions or appeals rules in governmentwide law. Congress in 2003 gave the Pentagon legal authority to change its personnel system, but a court also ruled those labor relations changes illegal in February. That case is under appeal.

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