DOD readying for personnel system revamp
YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea — Defense Department civilians eager for details on how the agency may revamp how it pays, promotes, hires and fires people, will have a few more months to wait, a senior Pentagon official said Tuesday.
In December, the department will publish in the Federal Register a set of draft regulations detailing how it might overhaul the personnel system for appropriated fund employees, said David L. Snyder, assistant chief of civilian personnel policy at the Department of the Army, during a town hall meeting at Yongsan.
The revamped system will be called the National Security Personnel System, or NSPS. Its aim is to make the Defense Department’s personnel system more efficient and better able to compete with the private sector in trying to fill job slots, officials said. “The intention is to make it better for both the employees and the management,” Snyder said.
The current system, the Yongsan audience was told, makes the hiring process too slow and hurts recruiting. Among other deficiencies officials have cited: Outstanding performers are paid the same as poor ones and managers face limited flexibility in reassigning employees.
But, Snyder told the audience, whatever changes finally are made would be in harmony with long-standing civil service values, including merit system principles, and would not violate existing bans on certain personnel practices, such as those barring racial, religious or gender discrimination.
The NSPS already has sparked strong controversy among labor unions including the Federal Education Association, whose members are educators and support staff working in Department of Defense schools.
The unions have charged those in DOD advocating the new personnel rules want to limit or scrap collective bargaining and replace the current impartial, outside bodies used to settle disputes with a board mostly appointed by DOD.
Snyder was in South Korea this week to brief DOD civilians on the efforts to revise the DOD personnel system under the National Defense Authorization Act of 2004. President Bush signed the bill into law in November.
“We really want … to hear from all sides before we actually change the system,” Snyder told Stars and Stripes. “No decisions have been made as yet as to what this ought to be. … These are just things that are being considered. Working groups are … constructing options, that kind of thing.”
Snyder spent about 90 minutes Tuesday briefing some 200 employees at Yongsan’s Balboni Theater. Joining him was Reginald J. Brown, assistant secretary of the Army for manpower and reserve affairs.
A similar session was set for Wednesday at Camp Henry in Taegu. The Army has held about 30 briefings in 25 locations, in the United States, Europe, Hawaii, and this week’s two in Korea.
“We tried to catch a fairly significant number of the larger installations,” Snyder said. “I would expect that as the details become more clear, the Army will continue to be having sessions like this. … I know the leadership is very intent” on getting “the maximum amount of information to the maximum amount of people.” Accordingly, the Defense Department also has been briefing civilian employees in other services — one part of a broader Pentagon effort to find the best way to set up the NSPS, Snyder said.
Pentagon working groups have been looking in detail at various ways the existing system might be changed, he said. Pentagon officials also are in contact with key national labor unions about the possible changes.
They hope to put key ideas to the test in a pilot project, “Spiral One,” to begin in July. The test run would involve several thousand volunteer participants at certain military installations around the world, Snyder said. “It’s a way to try to get it as right as we can before we go to full implementation.”
The Pentagon has set up working groups for areas including compensation, performance management, workforce hiring, assignment, pay administration and shaping, employee engagement, labor relations and appeals, Snyder told his Yongsan audience. Officials will draw on the groups’ recommendations to draft proposed NSPS regulations, he said.
“The next big thing is that the total workforce is going to be able to see the details in the Federal Register … at the end of December,” he told Stripes.
“They can also see the options that are being considered on that DOD Web site,” he said. “They’re not terribly complex.” The Defense Department’s NSPS Web site is at www.cpms.osd.mil/nsps. Information specific to the Army is at www.cpol.army.mil.
Among key items under consideration are “pay for performance” and what Snyder in the interview called “grade banding.”
Pay for performance would link employees’ pay to their supervisors’ evaluations. The more favorable the evaluations, the higher the pay.
Grade banding — what was called “pay banding” in the briefing — would simplify the DOD pay structure for white-collar employees by reducing the number of pay grades to a few “grade bands,” Snyder said. Within a grade band would be various pay “steps,” giving managers more flexibility.
“The benefits of that are you have salary flexibility in what you can pay people from the lowest end of the band to the highest,” Snyder told Stripes. “In places where you want to compete, you have much more flexibility in what you can pay people.”
Managers would be responsible for keeping salary arrangements within bounds, he said. “People are going to have to be very conscious that they cannot allow their salaries to escalate out of hand.”
Lee Kang-nim, who works at the 17th Finance Command, called the presentation helpful. “It was very informative,” she said after attending the briefing. “About pay banding was most useful because I didn’t have any idea what was going to happen.”