Unions, Pentagon agree to continue talking about personnel overhaul

By David McGlinchey

Despite union concerns that Pentagon officials were ending discussions on the overhaul of the Defense Department personnel system, the talks continued Friday and both sides have committed to keeping communication open, according to participants.

"Today I thought the meeting went well," said Gregory Junemann, president of the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers. "I thought ... the general mood of the meetings was good. I thought it was productive."

Last week, a coalition of federal employee unions held a press conference to protest what they called an underhanded Defense Department plan to outsource government jobs. Union officials asked Congress for help in keeping the Defense Department from ending talks. Last year, Pentagon officials asked Congress for the right to develop a new personnel policy - known as the National Security Personnel System - in order to deal with extensive, long-lasting overseas military deployments and terrorist threats. Congress granted sweeping personnel powers to the Defense Department and the Homeland Security Department.

Defense officials are planning to implement a pay-for-performance system and do away with the decades-old General Schedule.

A union press release issued on Thursday warned that Pentagon and Office of Personnel Management officials planned for Friday's meeting to be the "final encounter with union officials as part of the creation of the National Security Personnel System." After the meeting, however, both sides were upbeat.

The meeting was "productive and provided an opportunity for the parties to exchange some ideas relative to compensation, pay banding and recruiting issues as part of the human resource system," a Defense Department spokeswoman said. "In response to the unions' request, DoD and OPM agreed to additional meetings and to continue dialogue with them as we proceed with the process."

Junemann said there was a little contention over the sharing of information on pay banding, but he sounded optimistic.

"The very good news out of this is that we are continuing to talk. There were a lot of hot rumors flying around that today was going to be the last day of discussions," he said.

He noted, however, that unions want Defense officials to begin sharing details of their personnel plans.

"I think everybody is a little tired of talking in generalities ... I just don't think we're anywhere near close enough on specifics," Junemann said. "It's sort of the title of a book, pay-for-performance, but how thick is it and what is it all about?"