February 11, 2004

OPM to play larger role in Defense personnel overhaul

By David McGlinchey

The Office of Personnel Management did not help develop the Pentagon's personnel policy proposal released last week, but the agency is now planning to focus on the Defense Department's personnel overhaul, a senior OPM official said Wednesday.

"We are just now turning our attention" to the Defense Department proposal, said Ronald Sanders, OPM's associate director for human resources management. Sanders testified during a hearing before the House Government Reform Subcommittee on Civil Service and Agency Organization.

Last year, Congress granted the Defense Department broad authority to reorganize its personnel policy and structure. Last Friday, union leaders received a memo from Pentagon leaders that outlined some of the proposed changes. Union officials contend that the new provisions will do away with collective bargaining and limit union membership. Defense officials said that they need the new personnel system to restructure the civilian workforce, make it more adaptable and implement pay-for-performance measures.

During Wednesday's hearing, American Federation of Government Employee President John Gage called the Pentagon proposal "a deceitful document from top to bottom."

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., said that OPM should have been heavily involved from the beginning in crafting the policy.

"You have had zero role in that," Norton told Sanders. You should "be in on the ground floor when they change that system."

Sanders said that OPM officials "have seen the proposal," but until recently the agency has been focusing on developing the Homeland Security Department's personnel system. That system is expected to be unveiled next week.

"OPM is being downsized in its mission," Norton said. The Pentagon should not be left alone to develop a policy proposal because "the DoD doesn't know squat about civil service."

Chairwoman Jo Ann Davis, R-Va., said the subcommittee would "do anything in our power" to keep oversight on the issue.

It is important, Davis said, "to know both sides of the issue."

Davis and Norton emphasized that the new provisions are still only proposals.

"It's not [etched] in stone yet," Davis said. Lawmakers "have time to fix it before it gets [etched] in stone."