Members of a House civil service subcommittee complained yesterday that
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld is trying to rush through a plan to
overhaul the personnel system at the Defense Department without giving
Congress a chance to study it.
At a 31/2-hour hearing, Republicans and Democrats alike criticized
David S.C. Chu, undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness,
over the handling of proposed legislation that would change the way
746,000 civilian employees are hired, paid and promoted in the federal
government's largest department.
Defense officials quietly submitted the 205-page bill two weeks ago
during the congressional recess and are now trying to fast-track it
through the armed services committees in the House and the Senate,
"We're doing this so quickly and so fast that I can't say I'm very
comfortable," said Rep. Jo Ann S. Davis (R-Va.), chairwoman of the panel.
"I'm not anxious to run forward and vote for something when I just don't
know what it's going to do to 700,000 people. . . . I think we're all
concerned with the sweeping power that would be given."
Democrats said the bill would grant Rumsfeld and future defense
secretaries a license to pay, promote, discipline and discharge workers
without adequate regard for seniority, performance and merit
"The bill before us is a blank check," said Rep. Henry A. Waxman
(Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the House Government Reform Committee.
"We don't know what the Defense Department is going to do. Given the Bush
administration's track record on civil service issues, there is no reason
to think that the new system will be a fair one."
The department's proposal would push aside the General Schedule and
replace it with a pay-for-performance system that would end guaranteed
annual raises based on longevity. The plan would make it easier to hire
workers quickly, relax restrictions on the hiring of retirees and limit
the ability of unions to bargain over changes in workplace conditions. The
Pentagon did not include union leaders when drawing up the plan.
David M. Walker, the head of the General Accounting Office, said he has
"serious concerns" about the proposal. The Pentagon needs to improve its
management systems and to show that adequate safeguards would be in place
to minimize the chances of political abuse, he said, and it should have
consulted the unions from the start.
"The process is critically important," Walker said. "I wouldn't have
done it this way."
Bobby L. Harnage Sr., president of the American Federation of
Government Employees, which opposes the bill, said union officials sought
to help shape the measure but were rebuffed by the Pentagon.
"They basically said they were too busy," Harnage said. "The timing of
this legislation is more important than the substance -- that's my
impression of the Pentagon."
Chu, who said the Pentagon wants to implement the plan as soon as this
fall, defended the proposed changes as necessary to turn the department
into a more "agile" force. After the hearing, he conceded that "we have to
do more to build the confidence of members that, if given this power, we
will exercise it responsibly."
As for the quick pace, Chu attributed that to a request by the House
Armed Services Committee, which may include the measure in the defense
authorization bill that it is scheduled to take up in mid-May. "The
department is not saying we have to decide all this in a few days," he
said. "That was not our intention."
Harald Stavenas, spokesman for the House Armed Services Committee, said
consideration of the measure "shouldn't be a revelation to anyone. It's
something that's been in the works for a while. . . . I don't think anyone
can say this isn't being given a fair hearing."
Armed Services Committee Chairman Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) is
"generally supportive" of Rumsfeld and the proposed changes in civil
service law, Stavenas said.
Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services
Committee, is reviewing the legislation but has not taken a position, said
John Ullyot, the committee spokesman.
The House Government Reform Committee plans to take up on Thursday a
bill that includes parts of the Defense Department plan and other
personnel proposals for NASA and the Securities and Exchange
"This bill is flawed throughout," said Greg Junemann, president of the
International Federation of Professional Engineers, a union that is part
of the AFL-CIO. "It tramples on the collective bargaining and civil
service protections of loyal and dedicated federal workers, while doing
little in creating a more efficient DoD."