TSA to modify screener pay system

Before, only employees given one of the two top ratings could get pay increases. Before, only employees given one of the two top ratings could get pay increases. TSA
The Transportation Security Administration is planning to alter its pay-for-performance system in 2008, citing employee feedback as the driver for improvements.

The agency plans to make changes to its Performance and Accountability Standards System, which ties transportation security officers' annual pay increases and bonuses to job performance.

"We just implemented [the system] last year," said Amy Kudwa, a TSA spokeswoman. "We always maintained it would be an evolving process."

One modification will change the number of rating levels from four to five, giving all employees classified in the top three levels at least a small salary increase and bonus.

Formerly, only employees given the two top ratings were eligible for pay increases. Last year, only 2 percent of employees received the highest rating of "role model," and only 20 percent got the next highest mark of "exceeds standards."

The changes keep new security officers from joining PASS until they have served at least three months on the job, Kudwa said. This change was necessary because many new hires are tested almost immediately after receiving initial certification, the agency's human capital office said in a chart outlining the new features.

Under the changes, new officers also must be certified by Jan. 1, 2008, in order to participate in PASS for that fiscal year, the office said. The modifications will ensure that all new hires have at least six months to complete PASS requirements, the chart stated.

The modifications are a result of the feedback TSA has received from the workforce over the past year, Kudwa said, adding that the agency offers multiple ways for employees to share comments. The national advisory council, which is made up of airport screeners from across the country, advises the TSA administrator on workforce issues. The agency also hosts an "idea factory" on its intranet, which allows employees to post comments, debate and promote new ideas, she said.

In July, Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, advanced an amendment in the Homeland Security Department's fiscal 2008 spending bill that would require TSA to report to the House and Senate appropriations committees by March 1, 2008, on the implementation of PASS.

The amendment would require TSA to provide statistics on how many employees achieved each level of performance called for under the system, the type and amount of all pay increases given at each level, and attrition. According to the National Treasury Employees Union, TSA has the highest attrition rate by far of any unit in the Homeland Security Department.

NTEU President Colleen Kelley said Thursday that while TSA is beginning to acknowledge that the PASS system does not adequately recognize employee performance, the proposed changes still are insufficient.

"If TSA modifies the system to increase opportunities to reward good performance, that is an improvement; however, TSA is missing the point," Kelley said. "The proposed changes have not addressed the issue of fairness, accountability by managers and transparency. Whether there are three levels or five levels, the fundamental concerns about favoritism and cronyism remain."

Kelley argued that it is only through collective bargaining that TSA can develop a fair pay system that would recognize employees' performance. Senate Democrats in July agreed to strip language from major homeland security legislation that would have granted airport screeners bargaining rights, dodging a veto threat from President Bush.

"NTEU will continue to work with Congress to improve the TSA pay system and secure collective bargaining rights for TSA employees," Kelley said.

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