Lawmakers deny DHS extra funding for personnel system

Unions ask Congress to strip funding completely in an effort to halt human resources overhaul.

House lawmakers rejected the Bush administration's request for millions of dollars in additional funding in 2007 for the Homeland Security Department's new personnel system.

The Appropriations Committee's Homeland Security subcommittee voted last week to provide $29.7 million for the system in fiscal 2007, which is equal to 2006 levels, a spokeswoman said. That figure falls short of the $41.8 million requested in the president's budget.

DHS' personnel system, authorized by Congress in 2002 when it formed the department, will feature a market and performance-based pay approach to replace the decades-old General Schedule under which most civil servants work.

Federal employee unions, including the National Treasury Employees Union and the American Federation of Government Employees, are asking Congress to strip the personnel system of funding in order to halt the overhaul, which they argued would promote cronyism and jeopardize annual pay raises.

NTEU President Colleen Kelley last week wrote a letter to Reps. Harold Rogers, R-Ky., chairman of the subcommittee, and Martin Olav Sabo, D-Minn., its ranking member, asking them to redirect the money proposed for the personnel system.

"As the committee considers funding levels for DHS for fiscal 2007 NTEU urges you to fund [Customs and Border Protection] front-line security and trade enforcement needs before spending any additional taxpayer dollars on an undeveloped, untested, legally compromised new DHS personnel and pay system," Kelley said in the letter.

Kelley said she is happy with the subcommittee's action.

"With everything else going on in DHS they should be focused on things like staffing, training, a lot of things," Kelley said. "Not spending time or money on a new personnel system that they are just not ready to do."

Beth Moten, legislative director for AFGE, said the union strongly supports the elimination of any funding for the DHS personnel system.

In budget request documents, DHS stated that the $41.8 million would go to the Office of the Chief Human Capital Officer "to continue implementation of the human resources system initiative…[that] rewards employees for their contributions to the mission of the department, not simply for longevity."

"We believe the funding levels outlined in the president's budget are essential to meet the department's mission objectives," said Larry Orluskie, a DHS spokesman. "We look forward to working with Congress to ensure that DHS has sufficient resources to continue to attract, retain, train, and reward the high-quality workforce it needs to meet its operational requirements and goals."

The two unions, along with several others, successfully challenged parts of DHS' personnel system in court. A federal judge ruled last summer that DHS went too far in curtailing collective bargaining abilities for employees. The government is appealing that ruling.

The full appropriations committee is scheduled to vote on the DHS budget Wednesday morning.

A spokesman for Sabo said the congressman is planning to offer an amendment on the House floor to redirect money to firefighting programs in DHS, but has not made a decision about where that money will come from. Last year, Sabo, along with Reps. Curt Weldon, R-Pa., and Steny Hoyer, D-Md., introduced a similar amendment.

The president asked for $53 million for the personnel system last year, but Congress enacted only $29.7 million.