Pentagon adds 35,000 employees to new personnel system

The Defense Department is planning to transfer an additional 35,000 nonbargaining unit employees to its controversial pay-for-performance system, according to an online notice posted last week.

The department has been moving its employees to the National Security Personnel System in test groups known as spirals. The latest round, Spiral 1.3, will include more than 26,000 Army employees, 7,500 from the Navy and more than 1,000 in the Air Force. The transfers will take place by the end of April.

This installment will bring the total employees working under the system to more than 113,000.

The Pentagon has delayed moving unionized workers into NSPS until an appeals court rules on a case challenging the labor relations portions. Unions argue that the system effectively eliminates collective bargaining rights, and would like the appeals court to uphold a district court ruling that blocked the department from proceeding with labor relations reform.

A decision in the appeals case is expected soon. But the department may face roadblocks regardless of how the court rules. Earlier this month, members of a House Armed Services subcommittee said congressional action may be necessary to fix the problems associated with the personnel system.

Sarah Starrett, a labor relations attorney for the American Federation of Government Employees, said the department's move on Spiral 1.3 is misguided. "They are trying to take advantage of the fact that these people have no representation by taking away their rights," she said.

She added that several employees working under NSPS have contacted AFGE, asking the union for help returning to a bargaining unit job under the General Schedule. She said many employees who leave NSPS and return to a General Schedule job are not receiving the promotions they would normally receive had they never left the schedule.

Defense Department officials argue the new system is working well, but they acknowledge it will take time to fully evaluate NSPS and determine where adjustments will be needed for the long term.

Michael Dominguez, principal deputy undersecretary of Defense for personnel and readiness, said earlier this month that the infusion of new employees indicates "substantial progress" and will help the department ensure the system is "credible, fair and effective."

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