House lawmakers direct funds away from DHS personnel system

Union commends move as bill awaits Senate action.

The House of Representatives voted this week to shift funding away from the Homeland Security Department's efforts to implement a new personnel system.

On Tuesday, the House approved its version of the Homeland Security appropriations bill ( H.R. 2360) by a vote of 424-1 and transferred more than $26 million from the DHS personnel overhaul to programs that benefit firefighters, according to congressional staffers. The amendment that transferred the money was sponsored by Reps. Martin Sabo, D-Minn.; Curt Weldon, R-Pa.; and Steny Hoyer, D-Md.

According to a spokeswoman for Hoyer, Congress originally had allocated $53 million for the program, but redirected $26.1 million.

Sabo said that one of his priorities was to provide sufficient funds for fire fighters.

"One of my offsets was funding for the department's new personnel system, which will still increase ... over the fiscal 2005 funding level," Sabo said. "We learned that the budget request for this program was grossly overstated last year, and I suspect that this year's request is also inflated."

Homeland Security officials declined to comment on the development. The bill has been sent to the Senate.

When Congress established the department in 2002, officials were given the power to develop their own personnel system. Agency officials are planning to limit the scope of union bargaining, make it easier for managers to discipline poor performers and dismantle the General Schedule pay system in favor of a performance pay framework.

Union officials and some lawmakers have complained that the new personnel rules overstep the original congressional intent and are overly restrictive of workers' rights. Federal and DHS personnel officials have said that the system strikes a necessary balance between national security needs and workforce interests.

The National Treasury Employees Union applauded the reduction of funding for the development of the new personnel regulations.

NTEU President Colleen M. Kelley said the funding shift is "a much better use of the money than the purpose for which DHS initially requested it-implementing this unnecessary and unwise personnel system."

According to NTEU, the $53 million request included $18 million for contractors who would help design the performance management framework and $6 million to establish internal labor relations boards.