Homeland Security appeals for personnel funding

Agency asks Congress to reverse House vote diverting funds from implementation of new system.

The Homeland Security Department asked Congress Tuesday to provide the entire $53 million that the Bush administration requested for implementation of the agency's new personnel system.

Last week, in its version of the fiscal 2006 Homeland Security appropriations bill, the House voted to divert more than $26 million from the DHS personnel overhaul and direct the money to programs that benefit firefighters. Rep. Martin Olav Sabo, D-Minn., who introduced the proposal to shift the funds, said he suspects the initial DHS request was "inflated."

Homeland Security spokesman Larry Orluskie said, "The president's budget provides the resources necessary for the department to meet its goals. We look forward to working with Congress to ensure the department receives the full funding requested by the president in order for us to continue to attract, retain and reward a workforce that is able to meet the critical mission entrusted to it."

When Congress established DHS in 2002, agency officials were given the authority to build a new personnel system. The framework they came up with limits union bargaining, streamlines the process for disciplining poor performers and replaces the General Schedule pay system with a pay-for-performance approach.

Labor unions representing DHS employees, including the National Treasury Employees Union and the American Federation of Government Employees, have opposed the overhaul.

A DHS official said Tuesday that the funding cut could impede efforts to train employees and managers to use the new system if it becomes law. The official noted, however, that the cut would not stop the implementation of the new system.

"One of the biggest concerns of employees is, they need training. They need to know how this thing is going to work," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "What we're asking for this year is the dollars for training. The unions pushing against this thing, this is cutting off your nose to spite your face."

Although congressional reaction to the funding cut has been muted, one Republican senator is reviewing the House decision. Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio, chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight of Government Management, the Federal Workforce, and the District of Columbia, has previously expressed strong interest in the governmentwide implications of personnel overhauls at the Defense Department and DHS.

"The senator is reviewing where the cuts came from and what they mean," said Marcie Ridgway, a spokeswoman for Voinovich.

Other congressional staffers, however, predicted that the Senate would not replace the funding in its version of the spending bill. One House staff member said if the personnel reform actually required the full $53 million, the Republican-dominated House would have provided it.

The staffer, who asked not to be identified, noted that the House has been a strong supporter of the DHS personnel reform, but passed the appropriations bill by a vote of 424-1.