Civilian workers wary of new federal rules
August 20, 2004
STUTTGART, Germany — In one office, an employee buried in work is still getting the job done.
Down the hall, a colleague who is practically growing cobwebs gets paid more money.
The top performer cannot be paid more, and the deadweight can’t be fired. Even if he could, hiring a replacement could take six months or more because of red tape.
The Department of Defense has begun revamping the rules that govern how its 750,000 civilian employees are hired and fired, promoted, punished and paid.
A new way of doing things is scheduled to be in place by the end of 2008.
This week, two of the Army’s top personnel officers presented a slide show and took questions from some of the workers in Stuttgart, Heidelberg and Kaiserslautern.
Stuttgart employees who attended the town hall meeting at Patch Theater were hopeful and skeptical.
“This was … kind of a typical Army move,” said Toni Fry-Walker, a logistician with the 6th Area Support Group.
“We’re going to have a new system that we’re going to implement, and they give you a date when you’re going to start, but they haven’t fleshed out the program yet. So it sort of leaves you hanging.
“The training ought to come a little more up front before we have to implement it.”
The pay-for-performance proposal drew some doubts. While Fry-Walker and others said people should be paid what they’re worth, they wondered how it would be decided.
A number of audience members said that too many bureaucrats played favorites. If a popular but ineffective employee is rated the same as an effective employee, does he, too, get pay-for-performance money?
“I’m neutrally optimistic but I’m also a realist,” said James Greer, an assistant adjutant. “Because I know that the popularity idea is definitely real. So I’m kind of afraid of that.”
Some were worried that underachievers might be unfairly targeted.
Mariah Armstead, an equal employment opportunity specialist, said someone who is perceived as a deadweight might just be poorly trained or underused.
“Put them on some type of plan so they can come up to speed,” Armstead said. “Don’t get rid of the employee. We have good people. Train them.”
The new system, called the National Security Personnel System, or NSPS, was enacted by Congress in November 2003.
It’s supposed to help make the Defense Department and Department of Homeland Security more responsive to the nation’s security needs.
One of Wednesday’s presenters, Reginald Brown, the assistant secretary of the Army for manpower and reserve affairs, said it took two years to hire enough civilian security workers for the Pentagon after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
The lag was caused, Brown said, by inflexible hiring rules, which resulted in military police and activated reservists having to pull security at the Pentagon instead of doing other jobs.
Forty-one unions that represent Army civilians are being consulted, said the other presenter, David Snyder, the Army’s assistant director for civilian personnel policy.
“We’re not bargaining,” Snyder said. “We intend to get their input and opinions.”
The first employers are scheduled to start using the new system by next July, and other groups by January 2006. Full implementation is planned by 2008.
Brown and Snyder did not say which groups of employees would be the first ones to try the new system.
They declined to take a reporter’s questions after Wednesday’s meeting in Stuttgart even though it ended 45 minutes earlier than scheduled.
Armstead, the EEO specialist, said she hoped the new system would not be implemented across the board until it was proven effective on a smaller scale.
“The decision they make and policies they are making are going to be affecting so many lives,” she said.
“It should be a slow process and should be something that’s thought out in every area.”
— More information on the new system can be found at: www.cpms.osd.mil/nsps; www.cpol.army.mil