Union seeks to halt funding for DHS personnel system

A major federal labor union is calling on Congress to curb fiscal 2008 funding for a controversial personnel system at the Homeland Security Department.

In testimony submitted to the House Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee, National Treasury Employees Union President Colleen Kelley urged lawmakers to prohibit DHS from spending any money in fiscal 2008 on its proposed personnel plan, formerly known as MaxHR and now called the Human Capital Operational Plan.

The move comes shortly after the House Homeland Security Committee approved an amendment to a 2008 authorization bill that would repeal DHS' proposed changes to employee appeal rights and performance management. The department has announced that it intends to move forward with the appeals, adverse actions and performance management parts of the system.

"Despite Congress' clear intent to stop implementation of the failed DHS human resources management system, [the agency] continues to persist in implementing these compromised personnel regulations," Kelley said.

Kelley cited the Office of Personnel Management's 2006 federal workforce survey, in which DHS ranked last or almost last in the categories of job satisfaction, leadership and workplace performance. She also said the agency has moved ahead with the overhaul despite an appeals court decision upholding a ruling that portions of the system illegally curtail employees' collective bargaining rights.

But Larry Orluskie, a spokesman for DHS, defended the agency's proposed system on Monday. Since Marta Perez came on board as the agency's chief human capital officer, "she's done nothing but make the department better for its employees," Orluskie said.

"This department continues to make every effort to develop a 21st century human capital program in an environment in which employees are part of a greater culture," Orluskie added. "It's the whole idea of what the department strives for."

Orluskie said last month that DHS' new Human Capital Operational Plan would involve consistent communication with labor unions. And though the department and unions have not yet discussed the new strategy, any proposed changes will be made in accordance with union agreements, Orluskie said Monday.

Lawmakers approved only $20 million for the new DHS personnel system for fiscal 2007, far less than the $71.5 million requested in the president's budget and the $29.7 million Congress gave the system for fiscal 2006.

At a hearing last month, members of a House subcommittee expressed skepticism over personnel reforms being developed across government. Though the Bush administration would like to see federal agencies shed the decades-old General Schedule pay scale in favor of a system based on pay for performance, some lawmakers have argued that the government needs to come up with a better idea.

Still, Orluskie said DHS is working to ease lawmakers' fears, in hopes of securing funding for the system for fiscal 2008. He pointed out that the money would cover several different programs, including managerial training, and said cuts would be detrimental to employees.

"None of this is done in a back room," Orluskie said. "We're trying everything we can to make life better for employees and, at the same time, meet our mission goals."

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