Defense personnel reform postponed

Target date for first group of employees to join the system shifted from July until the fall.

Pentagon officials announced Tuesday that the rollout of the National Security Personnel System would not begin on July 1 as initially planned.

The delay comes just days after the Defense Department's meet-and-confer discussions with union leaders came to a close. The talks were aimed at getting the unions' input on the structure of the system, which will govern 700,000 civilian workers.

The Pentagon's preliminary regulations for the new system, released in February, would restrict union bargaining rights, create stricter disciplinary rules and eliminate the decades-old General Schedule in favor of a pay-for-performance system.

In a statement last week, Mary Lacey, program executive officer for NSPS, said Defense and Office of Personnel Management officials would make "several recommended changes to the proposed regulations as a result of union input." Those revisions are expected to be published in the Federal Register later this summer, according to officials.

The first phase of implementation, dubbed Spiral One, would include 60,000 employees and could be implemented as soon as 30 days after the Federal Register announcement, officials said.

Two additional waves would follow. Once they are completed, 300,000 Defense civilians will have shifted into NSPS. Full implementation is expected by 2008.

The labor relations portion of the new system is expected to be in place by the end of September, according to Defense officials. Under this part of the plan, authority to adjudicate labor disputes will shift from the National Labor Relations Authority to a new internal National Security Labor Relations Board.

On Tuesday, one union official said he was pleased with the decision to push the implementation date back, but expressed doubts about the department's overall timetable.

"Any push back is good news because this system is going to wreak havoc for years," said Mark Roth, general counsel for the American Federation of Government Employees, which represents the bulk of Defense civilian workers. "It would be great if they pushed it off the planet."

According to Roth, union officials will meet with OPM Acting Director Dan G. Blair and Acting Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon R. England on June 16, and they will try again to obtain more modifications to the regulations.

"I would hope that Gordon England, the Number 2 man at the Department of Defense, if he believes something is harmful to his employees, hopefully he will be able to take a broader look at it than the people that we were stuck in a room with for 35 days," Roth said, referring to the recent meet-and-confer sessions.

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