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HEIDELBERG, Germany — More than 200,000 Defense Department civilians are on track to revert to a prior pay and promotion system, including more than 10,000 workers in Europe and the Pacific who will make the transfer in the coming months.

Four years ago, the Defense Department changed how it classified, paid and promoted workers, from the General Schedule, or GS, personnel system that covers most federal employees to the National Security Personnel System.

The Bush-era pay-for-performance system — approved in 2004 and implemented in 2006 — had differing policies regarding tenure, hiring, reassignment, promotion and pay, and it was supposed to provide more flexibility to managers.

The program was criticized by federal employee unions, lawmakers and outside experts, who called it "ineffective, confusing and detrimental to employee morale," according to The Washington Post.

The fairness of the system was questioned further in 2008 when an analysis by Federal Times, a publication aimed toward senior U.S. government managers, found that white employees got higher average raises and bonuses than other groups and that workers at some Defense Department agencies were more handsomely rewarded than their counterparts in others.

In October, President Barack Obama signed the 2010 National Defense Authorization Act, which repealed the NSPS and restored DOD employees to the GS system.

Congress mandated that 226,000 Defense Department employees must transition back to the GS system by the start of 2012. According to the NSPS website, the transition is expected to be completed earlier than required.

"There are a lot of opinions on whether there was anything wrong with it," said Vera Garcia, who is managing the transition for USAREUR. "For us, there was a lot of goodness — it gave us a lot of flexibility."

She also said it was "very processy" but had forced managers to provide consistent feedback to employees about how to improve their performance.

As the workers transition from system to system, she said no one will see a pay decrease. How an NSPS pay level will translate to a GS step will be determined by "classification specialists ... using GS system criteria," she said.

Garcia said employee enthusiasm for going back to the GS system was "a mixed bag" and that some preferred the old system because it was more familiar and easier to understand.

Tom Saunders, a spokesman for Installation Management Command Europe said he was happy to return to the old system.

"The NSPS came at us, and I just didn’t understand it," he said. "It just seemed like it was a lot more involved."

By the numbersDefense Department civilians in Europe and the Pacific reverting to the General Schedule, or GS, personnel system:

U.S. Army Europe: 2,000U.S. European Command: 300U.S. Air Forces in Europe: 1,700U.S. Navy Region Europe: 1,200Installation Management Command Europe: 1,650Pacific Air Forces: 1,600U.S. Naval Forces Japan: 1,300U.S. Army Japan: 706U.S. Forces Japan (HQ): 61U.S. Forces Korea and 8th Army Korea did not respond to queries sent Friday. U.S. Pacific Command could not provide numbers by deadline.

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Nancy is an Italy-based reporter for Stars and Stripes who writes about military health, legal and social issues. An upstate New York native who served three years in the U.S. Army before graduating from the University of Arizona, she previously worked at The Anchorage Daily News and The Seattle Times. Over her nearly 40-year journalism career she’s won several regional and national awards for her stories and was part of a newsroom-wide team at the Anchorage Daily News that was awarded the 1989 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service.
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