WASHINGTON – The Pentagon on Thursday unveiled new personnel rules that would replace the current pay scale with a performance-based pay system and would reduce bargaining rights for civilian employees.
Labor unions quickly threatened to sue over the sweeping new rules, which the leader of the American Federation of Government Employees decried as “a joke.”
The new system, which could eventually affect almost 700,000 civilian Defense Department workers, was announced just days after the Department of Homeland Security proposed a similar reform of civil service rules for about 110,000 of its workers.
“As with the DHS regulations, those advance by the Defense Department will go a long way toward demoralizing the DoD work force,” said Colleen Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union.
She said that was particularly true because of the plans’ “limits on collective bargaining and the shrinking of independent third-party review of labor-management disputes.”
But Navy Secretary Gordon England said Thursday that the Pentagon’s proposed regulations would be more “agile” than the 50-year-old civil service rules currently in effect.
“It’s an outdated system, frankly,” England said of the current regulations.
England said the new rules came from a “very, very broad-based” collaborative process that included more than 100 town-hall-style meetings and 50 focus groups.
Hiring will be faster under the new system, according to a Pentagon summary of the rule changes, and the new pay system will allow managers to reward workers for their performance rather than their time spent in the job.
The department also said that besides creating more dialogue between workers and managers, the streamlined hiring and labor review processes would give the Pentagon the flexibility needed to respond to security threats in a rapidly changing world.
The changes cannot be finalized for several months, as the Pentagon solicits public comment and considers any changes. Once finalized, the labor rule changes would take effect immediately but the pay system changes would begin with a first wave of about 60,000 employees who would be switched over to the new system this summer.
“We’re changing the culture,” said Dan Blair, the acting director of the Office of Personnel Management. But he conceded that the shift is “going to take training” and time.
England, in a prepared statement, called the proposal “a win for our employees, a win for our military and a win for our nation.”
Union officials disagreed.
“If anything, the . . . plan makes the nation less secure,” AFGE President John Gage said in a statement.
AFGE has already filed a lawsuit, in conjunction with other unions, against the Department of Homeland Security in an effort to halt its proposed personnel rule changes. And union representatives threatened to challenge the Defense Department rules in federal court as soon as they are published in the Federal Register, which is expected to happen Monday.
The Pentagon announcement came several hours after a congressional hearing on the Homeland Security personnel proposal.
Labor officials said the plan, which would reduce rights to collective bargaining and create an internal review board to resolve labor disputes, are not only bad for the department’s employees but are “very bad for homeland security.”
AFGE attorney Mark Roth called the proposed system at Homeland Security “a 19th-century model” that would be harmful for the department and the country.
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