Panel backs bill that could spell end of Defense pay system

Legislation to speed up the overhaul -- or the elimination -- of the National Security Personnel System is working its way through the House, earning praise from labor unions but concerns from a managers' group.

The measure, an amendment to the fiscal 2010 Defense authorization bill offered by Rep. Carol Shea-Porter, D-N.H., would prohibit new jobs from being classified under NSPS. It also would require the Defense secretary to prepare to end the controversial system, or submit a report to Congress demonstrating why it should remain. NSPS would be abolished within a year unless Congress decided to act to prevent that from happening, following the secretary's report.

The amendment was added to the authorization bill by a voice vote during a markup session at the House Armed Services Committee on Tuesday.

The bill also would halt new hiring into the Defense Civilian Intelligence Personnel System, and would require the Defense secretary to submit a report defending that system, too.

The amendment mandates that NSPS employees receive 100 percent of the annual pay raises employees under the government's General Schedule system receive. Currently, NSPS employees are guaranteed only 60 percent of that raise.

NSPS already has been frozen in place by the Defense Department, pending a review by the Defense Business Board. The board is expected to begin public hearings on the system next week, and will deliver a report to Congress later this summer.

Union officials claim Defense is circumventing the freeze by continuing to classify new positions under NSPS.

Officials at the Federal Managers Association said the organization supports the House move on annual pay raises, but is wary of efforts to take broader action while the Defense Business Board review is under way.

"I'd hate to see them go into the middle of a year and try to transfer these systems," said FMA President Darryl Perkinson.

Shea-Porter said the aim of the amendment was to ensure that Congress could move on overhauling NSPS as soon as the board's review is completed.

"This amendment gives us the opportunity to take action this year on the recommendations resulting from the department's review of NSPS," she said. "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."

A spokesman from the Defense Department declined to comment on the pending legislation.

Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio, a longtime NSPS defender, said it would be "premature" to eliminate Defense's pay-for-performance system. "I firmly believe that NSPS should continue," he said.

The committee still was debating the authorization bill on Tuesday evening. Once it passes, it will be taken up by the full House, where it could be modified on the floor. The Senate Armed Services Committee will begin a markup of its version of the bill next week.

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