Report lacks details on merging homeland personnel systems

A new report from the Homeland Security Department outlines differences in pay and benefits among department employees, but offers no ideas for reform.

The brief report, which was due to Congress on Feb. 24 and delivered on March 5, presented the separate pay and benefits systems of employees shifted into the new department who perform similar duties to one another, such as a Coast Guard criminal investigator and a Transportation Security Agency criminal investigator. The new department gained authority over more than 170,000 federal workers on March 1. "I thought there would be a little more detail about what they intended to change," said National Treasury Employees Union President Colleen Kelley. "It's basic, limited information; it just lays out the differences that they have found within the 22 agencies," she said. Homeland Security Department officials promised a more comprehensive report on pay and benefits later this year.

A spokesman for Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio, said the lawmaker would follow the process closely and would assist officials in the transition process. Voinovich is chairman of the Governmental Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight of Government Management, the Federal Workforce and the District of Columbia.

"There obviously are a lot of different strands that need to be woven together into a single piece," said Voinovich spokesman Scott Milburn. "That's obviously not going to be easy."

Voinovich and Rep. Jo Ann Davis, R-Va., got the report two days after sending a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge inquiring about the report's status. In the March 3 letter, the two lawmakers said they would consider any new legislation Ridge needed to simplify management procedures at the new department. Davis is chairwoman of the House Government Reform Subcommittee on Civil Service and Agency Organization

"It is going to be a daunting task bringing together the legacy systems from all the different parts which are now in Homeland Security," Milburn said. "But he's [Voinovich] willing to assist so that the work of the department is a success."

Office of Personnel Management Director Kay Coles James originally intended to design a new human resources system for Homeland Security by June, but an OPM official said Friday that officials would not be able to meet that deadline. Until recently, the department didn't have officials in place to make key decisions to get the design process rolling, Jeffrey Sumberg, OPM's principal policy adviser on labor relations, said during a panel discussion at the Brookings Institution.

Sumberg said James and Homeland Security officials would meet with federal union leaders to agree on a process for setting up the new system. Once they agree on the process, actual planning will begin, he said.

Kelley, the union president, said she looked forward to working with Homeland Security officials on crafting the more expansive report.

"For NTEU this is the beginning of what will be a long process," Kelley said. "We are looking forward to being in discussion with HSD on any changes that they propose to make that they have the authority to make or need legislation to make. I would like to help them frame that so that in the end it was something we could support rather than oppose."

Fueling Kelley's optimism about improved working relations with department officials was a letter Homeland Security Undersecretary for Management Janet Hale sent recently to managers reminding them to honor existing collective bargaining agreements.

"I welcomed that message to all of those managers of all the agencies who maybe intentionally were disregarding them, but maybe also with a new department were unclear as to what the rules were and this makes it very clear, so this was a very welcome memo and I'm very, very glad that the agency has issued it," Kelley said.

The Homeland Security Department did not respond to inquiries about the report.

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