Comments on new Defense personnel system highlight fears

By David McGlinchey

Opinions are pouring in during the public comment period for the National Security Personnel System, and the reaction has been mostly skeptical.

Defense officials are in the process of launching NSPS, which will serve as the new personnel system for all Defense Department civilian employees. Under the current proposal, Pentagon officials will do away with the General Schedule pay system, install a pay-for-performance framework, limit collective bargaining opportunities, and loosen employee termination policies.

Union leaders and some lawmakers already have protested the move. A coalition of 10 federal employee unions is suing Defense and the Office of Personnel Management to block the new system. They accuse government officials of ignoring a congressional mandate to include employee input in the overhauled system.

Pentagon officials have said that the new system is essential to transform the department into a flexible and reactive agency. Defense personnel leaders also have said that union input was welcomed before the proposed regulations were released.

The public comment has included organized protest--the NSPS office has counted 707 form letters so far. Of the more than 600 individual letters in the forum, however, there was a large amount of unique opposition to the new system. Some letters expressed caution or fear. Although many writers supported performance pay in concept, a pervasive theme was suspicion that the system would falter in the hands of Defense managers.

"Most civilian managers are not well educated in labor relations and good sound leadership," one employee wrote. "I see this program as a money saver for [Defense] at our expense."

"The focus of the NSPS," said another writer, "seems to be based on the premise that all government personnel covered by this plan work for excellent, forward thinking, unbiased supervisors, an absolutely ridiculous premise."

Several writers said the new system stripped government employees of basic employment protections. One particularly skeptical writer questioned why employees were even taking the time to record their opinions.

"Do you really think that the [Defense] workforce believes that this opportunity to make comment is anything more than show?" the writer asked.

Only a few employees said NSPS would be a much needed change.