Pentagon scales back, delays first installment of NSPS

By Karen Rutzick

The Defense Department on Tuesday took a large step back in its plans for a massive personnel overhaul by drastically reducing the size of the first group of civilians set to enter the new human resources system, and announcing a delay in the start date.

The Pentagon has reduced the number of employees who are to begin receiving performance reviews under the initial installment of the National Security Personnel System to 11,000 from 65,000. The first group originally was scheduled to enter early this year, but that has been postponed until April 30.

The first paychecks received under the pay-for-performance system are now scheduled for January 2007.

The next group will go into the system on Oct. 1, and the third group will enter in January 2007. The Pentagon said it is still determining which employees will fall into these two groups.

NSPS is the department's plan to modernize human resources by reclassifying jobs and placing employees in broad paybands intended to give managers greater flexibility in hiring and setting pay raises. The General Schedule and its guaranteed raises are to be replaced by performance-based increases determined after more rigorous and meaningful performance reviews.

A coalition of labor unions banded together to file a lawsuit against aspects of NSPS that affect collective bargaining. Oral arguments in the case will be heard Jan. 24. Those same unions have said they are leaving the door open to file a case against the human resources portion of the system as well, once it is implemented.

The unions have complained that the Pentagon has not consulted with them in creating the new system, a charge the department strongly rejects.

In a message on the NSPS Web site, officials said they are delaying NSPS to work out some kinks in the system that they discovered from feedback. The explanation was identical to one given in a Dec. 23 letter that announced the department was delaying training on the system.

"Ensuring that we 'take the time to do this right' has always been a principle in our event-driven implementation approach," the statement said. "We want to make sure that our employees, supervisors and leaders fully understand this system, and that they have the tools to succeed in a results-focused, performance-based environment."

Of the 11,000 employees still left in the first group, 2,200 of them are in the Naval Sea Systems Command headquarters and program executive offices. NSPS officials said they singled out NAVSEA to serve as a pilot because of its experience with demonstrations projects in personnel systems.

Matt Biggs, spokesman for the coalition of labor unions, said starting 11,000 employees on NSPS is nothing more than another demonstration project.

"They haven't worked with the workers on putting this together," Biggs said. The delay "is reflective of a lot of what seem to be internal issues with implementing this. I think they're overwhelmed and in over their heads."

American Federation of Government Employees president John Gage said the setback validates his union's longstanding concerns with NSPS.

"If you look at DoD's recent actions, it is clear that they are not ready to implement such a far-reaching system," Gage said. "DoD now needs to face the facts, scrap what they have and start over."

In addition to the NAVSEA employees, employees still in the initial grouping include 2,418 employees at Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma, 2,348 employees in various Army human resources offices and 990 employees in the Defense Threat Reduction Agency.