Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has sent a proposal to
Congress to overhaul the Defense Department's human resources
management system and transfer authority over Defense civilian
employees from the Office of Personnel Management to the Pentagon.
The "Defense Transformation
for the 21st Century Act" calls for a personnel system that
could more quickly and creatively respond to new demands placed on
the department. Details of the wide-ranging plan include switching
to a pay-banding system, implementing a separate pay structure for
managers, and modifying job classifications, hiring authorities,
pay administration, pay-for-performance evaluation systems and
reduction-in-force procedures. Many of the personnel flexibilities
in the proposal mirror those included in the legislation that
created the Homeland Security Department.
"We are working to promote a culture in the Defense Department
that rewards unconventional thinking, a climate where people have
freedom and flexibility to take risks and try new things," David
Chu, undersecretary of Defense for personnel and readiness, told
members of the House Armed Services Committee in March. The
Defense Department currently employs 1.8 million civilian and
The proposal recommends repealing authority for civilian
personnel demonstration projects and implementing a "best practices," system of
five career groups with corresponding pay bands. Employees would
no longer receive step increases, within-grade pay increases or
annual across-the-board raises under the plan. Another portion of
the proposal would raise the annual total compensation limit for
senior executives to that of the vice president, which is $198,600
The proposal also would shift approximately 300,000 military
jobs to civilian positions.
The legislation would provide the flexibility the department
needs to respond to events, such as the war on terrorism, by
allowing civilian employees to "move money, shift people, and
design and buy weapons quickly, and respond to sudden changes in
our security environment," said Chu, who pointed to the personnel
flexibilities given to Homeland Security Department officials as a
model for change.
But union officials questioned the Defense Department's rush to
emulate a plan that is still in the development stages at
"We're still waiting to see what the Homeland Security
Department is going to come up with, and it would be absurd to
model another program after that until we see what the Homeland
Security Department comes up with and whether or not that works,"
said Diane Witiak, spokeswoman for the American Federation of
Government Employees. AFGE officials were still reviewing the
legislation Tuesday afternoon.
"At a minimum, we think that hearings should be held to
consider the proposal by Defense and there should be a hold on any
type of reform at Defense until there is some evidence of success
at the Homeland Security Department," Witiak said.
The Defense personnel proposal, like the Homeland Security law does
provide for input from union officials in crafting and
implementing changes to the existing personnel system. But it also
would allow the Defense secretary considerable leeway in crafting
collective bargaining relationships at the department. That
follows a bad precedent set at Homeland Security, said Robert
Tobias, director of the Institute for Public Policy Implementation
at The American University in Washington.
"Creating the structure for collective bargaining in the
federal sector is the responsibility of Congress, not an agency,"
said Tobias, who is a former president of the National Treasury
Employees Union. "Congress is responsible for the structure of
collective bargaining and it has no reason to give the authority
to a department."
Tobias said Defense officials have not made a compelling case
for changing existing collective bargaining rules.
"The whole idea for the Homeland Security legislation was
security. I certainly didn't agree with that rationale then, and
how can it be true for the Defense Department now?" Tobias asked.
"You can't solve the leadership problem that is reflected in the
most recent survey of
federal employees by taking away collective bargaining rights.
When given a chance, federal employees have shown that working
through their unions, they can help make an increase in
productivity. Taking away those rights will not increase