Pentagon likely to appeal ruling blocking labor relations reforms

The top official involved in creating a new personnel system for the Pentagon said Tuesday that the department is prepared to appeal a ruling blocking the labor relations portion of the reforms.

Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England said he was not surprised by Judge Emmet Sullivan's Monday decision that the National Security Personnel System's labor relations plan "fails to ensure even minimal collective bargaining rights."

"We actually expected, anticipated the ruling yesterday," England said. "As a matter of fact, we had worked out a process so we would quickly get to the appeals court . . . I expect we will go to the appeals level."

England was confident about the department's chances of a successful challenge.

"I frankly believe [an appeal] will be sustained and we will continue with the program we have in place, once this goes through the appeals process," he said.

England made his remarks at a conference in Baltimore hosted by the Office of Personnel Management.

A spokesman for the Justice Department, which is representing the Pentagon in this case, said the final determination about filing an appeal has not been made. England said the details are up to Justice.

"It will go through the court system," England said. "Perhaps we'll even modify [NSPS]. We have to wait and see. It's up to the legal side now to make that determination."

England also stressed that the labor relations setback will not affect the human resources side of NSPS, which will replace the General Schedule with broad paybands that enhance flexibility in the areas of hiring and promotions and replace automatic annual raises with ones that are performance-based and sensitive to the economy.

"We will start implementing the HR part of it very shortly," England said. "We're going to move ahead as much as we can while this goes through the court system."

The first group of the 650,000 Defense employees who will eventually fall under NSPS is scheduled to enter the system April 30. Many of the 11,000 employees in the group work in the Naval Sea Systems Command headquarters in Washington.

England praised the judicial branch for playing its part in creating a working personnel system.

"It's the way the system works," England said. "The executive branch implements the law . . . now it will go through several levels of review."

England's determination in pushing the appeals process was in keeping with his remarks on the need for personnel reform for Defense.

"The Department of Defense, the way we operate, is the last vestige of communism outside Cuba in the world today," England said. "We do central planning . . . centrally controlled and with many, many layers. Things take a long time . . . to accomplish."

"We're working very, very hard on the NSPS system because [it] is crucially important to us," he continued. "We need systems like this for the simple fact that we need to attract the very best talent we can."

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