Union distributes pamphlet with negative reactions to performance pay

By David McGlinchey

As part of the ongoing effort to block and modify the sweeping personnel overhaul at the Defense Department, a major federal union is distributing a pamphlet to all congressional offices with testimonials from federal employees who have experienced pay for performance systems.

The comments in the brochure are from Jim Winward, an engineer at the Naval Surface Warfare Center-Carderock Division in Philadelphia, and Gary Phetteplace, a scientist at the Army Corps of Engineers' Cold Regions Research and Engineering Lab in New Hampshire. In Philadelphia, union members opted out of a performance pay project, but the demonstration project was implemented for nonunion members at the facility. In New Hampshire, Phetteplace's union took part in a four-year performance pay demonstration project. The pamphlet is being distributed by the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers.

Last year, Congress granted Defense sweeping powers to develop a new personnel policy - known as the National Security Personnel System - in order to deal with a wave of long-term military deployments and unexpected threats. Pentagon officials since have proposed a performance pay system for civilian workers, limited collective bargaining rights and a streamlined appeals process for disciplinary matters. Union officials have said initial proposals were overly broad. Many labor organizations - including the IFPTE - also have complained vigorously about being kept in the dark about the final version of the Pentagon reform proposal. The two sides are holding talks on the issue, but the discussions have grown increasingly acrimonious in recent months.

Pentagon personnel officials have denied union claims that Defense negotiators promised to share a draft of the proposed NSPS regulations with union representatives.

The brochure being distributed to congressional offices is the latest move from union officials who increasingly are turning to Congress for help with the situation. Union officials also have visited several lawmakers - including Senate Governmental Affairs Committee Chairwoman Susan Collins, R-Maine - seeking political clout to draw out more details about the overhaul from the Pentagon.

The accounts in the pamphlet contain several arguments against the Pentagon's performance pay proposals.

"The Pay for Performance demonstration project we participated in for four years did nothing to force federal employees to prove their worth due to the fact that it had no performance metrics," said Phetteplace. "The appraisals by the supervisors were entirely subjective, and the employee is left with no specifics upon which to appeal and the taxpayers are left with no assurances of performance."

"Putting money intended for annual cost-of-living increases into a DoD-wide performance pay pool ... is just plain cruel," said Winward, "especially since DoD refused to set limits on managements' share."

The two men also criticized the move away from the General Schedule system and toward a private sector model. Phetteplace said that "missions and functions which are inherently governmental are not typically those in which successes would be measured by short-term gain, as is the driving force behind much of the private sector."

The pamphlet closed with a letter to Collins and Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., the ranking member on the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, asking the lawmakers to oppose the NSPS.