Defense to hold off on implementing NSPS labor rules

By Karen Rutzick

The Defense Department and unions reached an agreement Wednesday to delay implementation of the National Security Personnel System's labor relations portions until February.

Government and union lawyers filed a joint request for the postponement at the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. The agreement is meant to make it unnecessary for unions to seek a temporary restraining order. Such an order would halt implementation until a judge has ruled on the merits of the case.

A coalition of 10 labor unions earlier this month sued the Defense Department over final regulations for NSPS, a system designed to streamline labor relations and replace the General Schedule with market- and performance-based compensation. The department published the regulations in the Nov. 1 Federal Register.

At the time, the Pentagon said it planned to implement the labor relations portion after a 30-day period of congressional oversight.

But the department now has agreed to delay reforms concerning employee appeals, labor-management relations, override authority for existing contracts, narrowing of negotiable topics and mandatory removal offenses. The creation of an internal National Security Labor Relations Board is included under labor-management relations.

The parties asked Judge Emmet Sullivan to set a hearing for the week of Jan. 9, but Sullivan is free to set the hearing at his own convenience.

Under the agreement, Defense still will be able to implement a few minor portions of NSPS before February. Most notably, the department can continue to train employees on the workings of the new system, and it can release implementing issuances, which provide details on how to carry out the regulations. Those issuances cannot take effect until Feb. 1, however.

The American Federation of Government Employees, which is part of the 10-union coalition, said the agreement benefits both sides.

"We're heartened that the matter can now be heard on its merits in good time," AFGE assistant general counsel Joe Goldberg said. "It will be heard quickly and be placed before a judge in a timely fashion."

A spokesperson for the Justice Department confirmed the agreement but referred calls for comment to the Defense Department. An NSPS spokesperson did not respond by press time.

In addition to the February delay, the two sides agreed on a timeline for legal action. If the unions file a request for a preliminary or permanent injunction, they must do so by Nov. 23 and the government must file a response by Dec. 8. The union would then need to file a reply by Dec. 22 and the government, by Jan. 5.

Sullivan was assigned a previous lawsuit over the Pentagon's process of creating the system, but dismissed it without prejudice to wait for the final regulations to be issued. He was reassigned this lawsuit because it is related to the previous one.