Defense official outlines personnel system principles

By Elizabeth Newell

Still in the development phase, the National Security Personnel System will allow individuals to excel with fewer rules and restraints, Navy Secretary Gordon England said Wednesday.

During a town hall meeting, England, point man for the new system that was authorized under the 2004 National Defense Authorization Act, (P.L. 108-136), stressed that it has not been completely developed yet, but is designed to make employees say, "'Wow, it's terrific to work here. Look how much I got accomplished today.'"

The focus on taking advantage of the talent of each individual employee is crucial, England said, given the international competition in technology and human capital. He pointed out that China graduates more engineers than the United States does and said, "Unless we maximize the opportunity for every single person... we'll fall behind.

We will not be able to compete in the future."

The new system will encourage each employee to excel through the use of a pay band system and pay for performance with measurable objectives, the secretary said. The pay band system will compress the General Schedule into four or five levels. The secretary said he expects employees to respond positively because the new system will open communications between employees and managers, and ensure that expectations and goals are clear. It also will make it easier for employees to reach performance goals through training, courses, and other opportunities.

The first pilot program of the new system will take place in about a year, England said. It will last six months. Then the agency will evaluate it and make necessary changes. After adjustments, a 12-month pilot will be launched, with a similar process afterward. England said the program would take about three years to implement across the entire Defense Department.

In response to concerns, England stressed collaboration and transparency throughout the development and implementation of the program.

"We're reaching out to our union folks," England said. "We're still having those discussions to understand how they can best give us input--how we can best consider that. We will have a process throughout."

In addition to maintaining open lines of communication during development, England said the program will be transparent enough to discourage unfair employee preference by managers once it is implemented. Another panel member at the town hall meeting said that while no system can force managers to behave properly, the system should make problems easy to spot and remedy.

England touted the hiring flexibilities the program will provide. According to the secretary, they are designed to make Defense more "attuned to the modern system." In the private sector, applicants can walk in for an interview and come out with a job, the secretary said.

"It's not the case in DoD, I can assure you," he said. "We're out of date and [in] a lot of the things we do, we're just slow, cumbersome. We're not very good at what we do in our personnel practices."

Part of the problem, according to England, is the lack of an agencywide personnel system. A consolidation of the nine current programs, he said, will be easier to manage and better for employees.