The wait is officially over. After months of negotiations, meetings and studies, final regulations for the Department of Homeland Security’s new human resource management system were submitted this week to the Federal Register. The submission was announced by DHS Secretary Tom Ridge and Office of Personnel Management Director Kay Coles James.
“The men and women of DHS have developed new ways of working together to secure America,” Ridge said. “In the same manner, a new human resource management system will allow us to develop significant new ways of supporting our valued men and women, providing the tools necessary to recognize their accomplishments, build on their successes, and continue to build the Nation’s first line of defense.”
The regulations outline the design of a system that will affect about 110,000 employees. Referred to as MAXHR, the system is designed to create an environment that enhances recruitment, retention, and development of superior talent. MAXHR will recognize and reward employee contributions, and achieve the highest levels of individual performance and accountability.
“Employees who are honoring their nation by defending our homeland would have been serving under an outmoded and unresponsive personnel system,” said James. “It is a system that was developed by OPM and DHS following extensive research and outreach to thousands of DHS employees, their union representatives, managers, and other stakeholders in a series of focus groups and town hall meetings held across the country over the last two years. Today’s announcement marks the beginning of the implementation process, which is a critical step for the department and one that will require excellent communication and coordination.”
Despite the outreach program announced by James, several federal unions let it be known very quickly they were not happy with the program. In fact, very soon after the announcement was made, a coalition of federal unions representing many workers within DHS announced their intent to sue.
“We, the unions, had earnestly sought to design a new, efficient personnel system in collaboration with DHS managers,” said John Gage, national president of the American Federation of Government Employees. “With our efforts rebuffed and our gravest concerns ignored, we now, unfortunately, have no choice but to pursue a remedy through the federal courts.”
AFGE plans to file a case together with the National Treasury Employees Union, the National Federation of Federal Employees and the National Association of Agriculture Employees that will challenge the new regulations on both a statutory and constitutional basis.
The implementation plan for MAXHR includes a multi-year schedule. Using the framework established in the regulations, work will begin in establishing new policies and procedures for labor relations, adverse actions, and appeals including the formation of the Homeland Security Labor Relations Board.
From the onset of reorganization discussions, unions have questioned the integrity of a system that forces employees to take their concerns before an internal board appointed by the secretary of Homeland Security, with no requirement for Senate confirmation such as the case with the Federal Labor Relations Authority.
“Without true due process, managers will have free rein to retaliate against employees who challenge management decisions. The narrowed scope of bargaining in the new regulations allows management to implement transfers and shift changes with impunity,” argued AFGE General Counsel Mark Roth.
The new performance management system is expected to launch in the fall of 2005 with pay and classification changes implemented the following year for some employee groups. Work will also be underway in the first year to develop HR information technology solutions to support this initiative.
In the coming months, the department will roll out briefing sessions, satellite broadcasts, web-based training modules, classroom training, print materials, and frequent updates to the MAXHR Web site.