Administration calls language gutting Pentagon pay system ‘premature’

The Obama administration on Wednesday said it opposes a legislative provision that would force the Pentagon either to demonstrate that its pay-for-performance system could be reformed or to prepare to dismantle it within one year.

In a statement of administration policy, the White House said the language, passed by the House Armed Services Committee last week as an amendment to the fiscal 2010 Defense authorization bill, was premature given that the National Security Personnel System already is under review by a three-member task force. "This review will produce findings and recommendations that will help [the Defense Department and the Office of Personnel Management], working with the Congress, make informed decisions about the future of the program," the administration said.

The Pentagon in March stopped moving new job titles under the NSPS umbrella pending the results of the assessment, which is expected to wrap up in late August or early September. But the amendment would go a step further by blocking Defense from hiring people after June 16 for positions already classified as part of NSPS. This is of particular concern, the White House said, because it "will cause significant, undue disruption to organizations currently operating under NSPS."

It could delay efforts to fill thousands of positions and hinder plans to move tens of thousands of jobs back in house, the administration stated.

The Obama team also took issue with similar provisions covering the Defense Civilian Intelligence Personnel System, arguing the language would "prevent the intelligence community from transforming itself into a single enterprise that can recruit and retain a competitive workforce to meet our national security needs."

Union officials said they were disappointed by the administration's lack of support for the language, offered by Rep. Carol Shea-Porter, D-N.H.

Randy Erwin, legislative director of the National Federation of Federal Employees, said the provisions already show restraint pending the results of the review, because they simply would prevent the system from expanding, rather than repealing it outright.

"Given what a disaster NSPS has been, there is no reason to continue hiring people under NSPS when there is a real possibility that we will have to spend more time and money converting them out of the program if the personnel system is repealed," Erwin said.

In a statement introducing the amendment, Shea-Porter said it was intended to ensure Congress could address the results of the review expediently: "Without this language, we would not be able to act until fiscal 2011 and the serious problems would linger unresolved for yet another long year. Our dedicated federal workers deserve better than that." Alyssa Rosenberg contributed to this report.

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