Acrimonious Assembly

By David McGlinchey

The National Security Personnel System's meet-and-confer process is well under way, but progress reports are available only from the union side of the gatherings.

According to union press releases, very little progress is being made in the discussions. Defense Department officials did not return calls for comment.

In 2003, lawmakers gave Pentagon leaders permission to dramatically overhaul the Defense Department personnel system to respond to national security threats. Early this year, Defense officials released preliminary regulations that showed the agency wants to scrap the General Schedule system, implement performance pay, reduce union bargaining powers and streamline the employee appeals process.

The United DoD Workers Coalition - a group of Pentagon labor unions - has filed a lawsuit to stop the new system, claiming personnel officials ignored a congressional mandate to include union representatives in the development of NSPS. Those same unions are now engaged in a 30-day meet-and-confer process to sort through the nascent personnel system.

The sessions were supposed to clear up existing confusion about NSPS and its nuances. Charles Abell, principal deputy undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, told Congress that the meet-and-confer period would be helpful and explanatory.

"This is where the details that so many long for will be revealed," he said during a March 15 hearing. "It would be unnatural if [Defense workers] were not concerned or anxious; we will address those concerns."

Based on reports from unions, however, the meetings have been unproductive and antagonistic.

"UDWC members continue to wait for details," said a release from the April 19 and April 20 meetings. During the same meeting, the unions expressed concern that veterans preference rights would be abrogated under NSPS.

Officials from the Pentagon and the Office of Personnel Management disagreed.

The cooperation apparently did not improve during meetings on Monday and Tuesday.

"Management flatly denies UDWC good-faith effort to negotiate wages," the coalition said in a press release.

"Management fails to demonstrate how pay-banding schemes will be accepted as legitimate by DoD workers."

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