Unions continue fight against Pentagon personnel system

Coalition presents recommendations to Acting Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England.

Union leaders promised a spirited fight Thursday to achieve significant changes in the new National Security Personnel System before it is issued in its final form.

Representatives from a coalition of Defense unions delivered a letter of protest and a list of recommendations for the new personnel system to Acting Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England during an hourlong meeting Thursday morning. The letter was signed by Byron Charlton of the United DoD Workers Coalition.

Pentagon officials recently concluded more than a month of "meet and confer" sessions with union representatives. Defense is now developing the final regulations for the NSPS. During a Thursday afternoon press conference, American Federation of Government Employee officials said they plan legal action to block the new system as soon as the final regulations are sent to Congress.

"NSPS represents an opportunity for substantial positive change or an opportunity for failure, wasted resources and harm to organizational performance," Charlton wrote in the protest letter. "We hope that you and the secretary will reverse what has been a sham process in which DoD has ignored the legislative intent, the 58,000 public comments and the employee union representatives in the 'meet and confer' process at DoD."

In 2003, Congress allowed Pentagon to reshape its civilian personnel system. In January of this year, Defense personnel officials proposed the removal of the General Schedule system, the implementation of a performance pay framework, a streamlined appeals process and a reduction in collective bargaining.

The list of recommendations sent to England accepted the implementation of several personnel changes, including performance pay and market-based compensation. The unions argued, however, that performance pay should be a smaller part of overall pay and that civilian pay at Defense should be increased comparable with military pay. The recommendation paper-partially titled, "Labor's Proposals For Positive Change Versus Management's Unlawful Return to the 19th Century"-was not subtle in its criticisms of Defense Department policies.

"Management has demanded unlawful elimination of rights," according to the paper. "DoD should change course, and comply with the law."

Defense unions have argued against many of the proposed changes and a coalition of labor organizations filed a lawsuit in February to block the NSPS. That lawsuit claims that Defense officials disregarded congressional instructions to include unions in the development of the new system.

AFGE President John Gage said Thursday that Defense officials had been completely inflexible during the "meet and confer" sessions. Union officials said England had promised to read the union recommendations, but Gage said it would require intense effort to block rollout of NSPS. He predicted more congressional hearings to examine the new system.

"We're very frustrated, but we've got to keep working the process," Gage said. "I think we've really got to ratchet up."