DHS secretary urges swift personnel overhaul

Michael Chertoff also urges full funding for the pay-for-performance system.

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff on Thursday told lawmakers that he would like to avoid delays in switching to a pay-for-performance personnel system.

"I think delay is the worst of all worlds," Chertoff said at a House Government Reform Committee hearing. "I think the uncertainty of the transition is always the hardest piece and, frankly, the longer we delay the transition -- the more we drag it out -- the more apprehension we're going to have and the more anxiety."

Chertoff's remarks came when Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., asked him if the Pentagon's recent decision to postpone implementation of a similar personnel system by at least several months gave him any pause.

DHS will need to design a framework for evaluating employee performance that will stand up in court, Norton said. "One doesn't want to build a system that is full of opportunities for litigation," she noted.

But Cheftoff said his department is ready to move forward and plans to implement regulations governing the system in August. "We are committed to doing this and we should move forward in a disciplined but brisk manner in getting this implemented," he said, adding that he has worked under pay-for-performance systems most of his career and believes the DHS system will work.

Funding shortfalls, however, could hurt the system, Chertoff said. He urged lawmakers to restore the $26 million that has been cut from the $53 million requested to implement MAX HR-as the personnel system is called-in preliminary versions of the DHS fiscal 2006 appropriations bill.

"Frankly, if we want to have the system work well - if we want to be fair and transparent and efficient -- we have to pay for it," Chertoff cautioned. "We can't shortchange the training; we can't shortchange putting in place a process that's going to be fair and efficient."