Pentagon suspends NSPS conversions

The Pentagon will wait to move any more employees into the National Security Personnel System until the Defense Department and the Office of Personnel Management complete a joint review of the program.

"This administration is committed to operating fair, transparent and effective personnel systems, and we are undertaking this review to assess whether NSPS meets these objectives," said Deputy Secretary of Defense William Lynn in a statement. "We recognize that varying viewpoints exist regarding NSPS, and given the scope and complexity of the system, it is important for leadership to conduct its own review of the program."

The review will halt the conversion of 2,000 employees who were scheduled to move into the Defense pay-for-performance this spring, but those already under NSPS will not return to the General Schedule system. There are more than 205,000 nonunion employees already in NSPS.

NSPS has been controversial since its inception. Employee groups have expressed concern that favoritism would taint the evaluations process. But the Bush administration defended the program as a more accurate way to reward performance.

John Gage, president of the American Federation of Government Employees, which helped lead a 2005 union lawsuit to halt the implementation of NSPS, said he told Lynn in a meeting last week that the system never should have been deployed in the first place. Gage added he was pleased Lynn moved so quickly to place the system under review.

"This is clearly a step in the right direction," said Matt Biggs, legislative director of the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers, one of the unions that joined the 2005 suit. "The foundation on which NSPS was created was based on ideology, has lacked any transparency and has needlessly cost taxpayers untold amounts of resources." In February, several Democratic lawmakers wrote to Defense Secretary Robert Gates asking him to stop adding employees to NSPS until the system could be given a full review. In mid-January, Defense issued a new set of rules governing hiring and promotions under NSPS, sparking claims that the Bush administration was trying to establish anti-competitive practices on its way out the door.

Pentagon officials said OPM and Defense were discussing with the Obama administration who should lead the review, and when it should be completed. The administration has not decided yet on leadership or a time frame for the process, but Defense estimated it would take several months to complete the review.

Edmund Byrnes, an OPM spokesman, said any requests for details on the review should be referred to Defense.

Richard Brown, president of the National Federation of Federal Employees, said he was glad the review was under way but that the union would continue to push for legislative repeal of the system.

"We aren't going to let that stand in the way of our effort to repeal the personnel system this year," Brown said.

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