Appropriators block funding for DHS personnel reforms

Congress approved $20 million for the overhaul for fiscal 2007; Bush administration has requested $15 million for next year.

A House panel late Tuesday approved language that would block funding for a controversial human resources system at the Homeland Security Department.

The House Appropriations Committee voted unanimously to approve a $36.2 billion fiscal 2008 DHS spending bill that would block funding for the department's personnel system - now called the Human Capital Operational Plan.

This would mark a significant setback for the system. Congress approved $20 million for the personnel plan for fiscal 2007, and the Bush administration requested $15 million in its fiscal 2008 budget proposal.

"The committee's intent was to intentionally starve the system out of resources -- to starve it out of existence," said Eric Shulman, a lobbyist with the American Federation of Government Employees.

The measure would still provide DHS' human capital office with $3 million for "human resource activity, including a human capital survey," according to a report on the bill.

The committee markup comes on the heels of the full House's approval last month of language in the fiscal 2008 DHS authorization bill that would repeal the 2002 law that allowed the department to develop a new personnel system. But the White House has threatened to veto the authorization bill should it include that provision.

Federal labor unions have been lobbying Congress to halt funding, charging that DHS has moved ahead with the personnel overhaul despite an appeals court decision upholding a ruling that portions illegally curtail the collective bargaining rights of employees.

Nearly 11,000 nonbargaining unit employees have come under the performance management portion. The remaining parts -- appeals, adverse actions, classification, labor relations and pay for performance -- have not yet been fully implemented. And the department has been barred from bringing bargaining unit employees under the plan until it makes changes to the labor relations rules struck down by the court last year.

"This decision to provide no funds to implement a human resources program is the latest in a series of steps I hope will lead to an end by DHS to impose personnel rules that would further devastate already slumping morale within DHS and impede the ability of this agency to meet its important mission," said National Treasury Employees Union President Colleen Kelley.

Meanwhile, the appropriations bill also would provide $50 million for DHS to grant law enforcement officer status to Customs and Border Protection officers, to improve DHS' recruitment and retention ability.

But the administration claims that CBP officers do not meet the definition of law enforcement officers and therefore are ineligible for the early retirement option granted to such officers. It has threatened to veto legislation that would grant the status to CBP officers, on the grounds that doing so could endanger national security.

The bill also would provide $27 million for DHS to hire an additional 250 CBP officers to ensure compliance with the 2006 port security law.

The measure also would prohibit DHS from cutting the number of Federal Protective Service police until FPS provides local law enforcement agencies with information on the number and types of cases FPS police handle and reaches agreement with them on how such cases will be dealt with in the future.

At a hearing last month, lawmakers expressed skepticism over whether an FPS proposal to eliminate 249 police officers and create a workforce composed mainly of inspectors and contract security guards would leave federal facilities more vulnerable. Lawmakers questioned whether cutting the officer role would transfer the responsibility of responding to calls from federal agencies to local law enforcement officers, who already face tight budgets and other responsibilities.

DHS would not comment on the bill, as a matter of policy against commenting on pending legislation.