Report reveals anxiety over new DHS personnel system

By David McGlinchey

Employees at the Homeland Security Department are concerned about fairness and training in the personnel system being implemented at the agency, according to a report released Monday.

The report was produced after a series of focus group meetings with DHS employees between Feb. 24 and March 18. The focus groups were conducted in 10 locations and included 289 agency workers.

When Congress established DHS in 2002, officials were given the power to build their own personnel system.

Agency officials are planning to limit the scope of union bargaining, make it easier for managers to discipline poor performers and dismantle the General Schedule pay system in favor of a performance pay framework.

Although the employees were divided into union and nonunion focus groups, they reported the same concerns about the new system.

According to the report, employees are mainly concerned about the possibility of favoritism in a performance pay system, potential inability of supervisors to manage such a system, accountability for managers, availability of funding, time needed to operate the new system and difficulty finding appropriate measures for job success.

Supervisors said they are concerned about the training needed for the new system, the availability of information to answer employee questions and whether the goals of the new system are realistic. Supervisors also reported that they are concerned about the time needed to implement the new system.

National Treasury Employees Union President Colleen M. Kelley said the report shows that the agency is moving too quickly to implement a system that does not have the support of its participants.

"This report reaffirms my belief that DHS is moving forward with a system that is yet undefined and unclear, even to supervisors, and should slow down implementation until it has a structure in place that is understood and accepted by all DHS employees," Kelley said. "NTEU remains concerned that DHS will implement a pay-for-performance system that will be unworkable if artificial implementation deadlines take priority."

Homeland Security officials, however, said the report helps identify areas that need to be specifically addressed during training, which is set to begin in June. DHS spokesman Larry Orluskie said the focus groups worked exactly

as they were intended.

"The whole idea of the focus groups was to go out and find out what the concerns are with employees," he said. "It has helped us prepare" for training.