The Government Accountability Office announced general support many of the principles underlying the Department of Defense’s proposed National Security Personnel System, but also expressed concerns about the agency’s lack of communication to employees about how it plans to implement the system.
Testifying before the Subcommittee on Oversight of Government Management, the Federal Workforce, and the District of Columbia, Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, GAO Comptroller General David M. Walker said his agency has three primary areas of concerns:
- The proposed regulations do not define the details of the system’s implementation, including such issues as adequate safeguards to help ensure fairness and guard against abuse;
- The proposed regulations do not require, as GAO believes they should, the use of core competencies to communicate to employees what is expected of them on the job;
- And, the proposed regulations do not identify a process for the continuing involvement of employees in the planning, development, and implementation of NSPS.
Going forward, GAO believes that:
- The development of the position of Deputy Secretary of Defense for Management, who would act as DoD’s Chief Management Officer, is essential to elevate, integrate, and institutionalize responsibility for the success of DoD’s overall business transformation efforts, including its new human resources management system.
- DoD would benefit if it develops a comprehensive communications strategy that provides for ongoing, meaningful two-way communication that creates shared expectations among employees, employee representatives, and stakeholders.
- DoD must ensure that it has the institutional infrastructure in place to make effective use of its new authorities before they are operationalized.
Walker said GAO agreed that many of the principles underlying the reforms are consistent with proven approaches to strategic human capital management, such as a flexible and contemporary human resources management system that utilizes pay bands and pay for performance. Walker also said the regulations give DoD the power to "rightsize its workforce when implementing reduction-in-force orders by giving greater priority to employee performance in its retention decisions."
"GAO strongly supports the concept of modernizing federal human capital policies, including providing reasonable flexibility. There is general recognition that the federal government needs a framework to guide human capital reform. Such a framework would consist of a set of values, principles, processes, and safeguards that would provide consistency across the federal government but be adaptable to agencies’ diverse missions, cultures, and workforces," Walker testified.
Also testifying were several key officials in relation to the implementation of the new personnel system, including Charles S. Abell, principal deputy under secretary of defense personnel and readiness, who praised the reforms.
"The existing systems were designed for a different time. The world has changed, jobs have changed, missions have changed – and our HR systems need to change as well to support this new environment. NSPS allows DoD to establish a more flexible civilian personnel management system that is consistent with its overall human capital management strategy. NSPS will make the Department a more competitive and progressive employer at a time when the country’s national security demands a highly responsive civilian workforce," Abell said.
Similar sentiments were echoed by George Nesterczuk, the Office of Personnel Management’s senior policy advisor on the Department of Defense.
"We believe the regulations we have jointly proposed strike that balance in all of the key components of the NSPS: performance-based pay, staffing flexibility, employee accountability and due process, and labor-management relations. In each case we struck a careful and critical balance between operational imperatives and employee interests, without compromising either mission or merit."
However, others were not so supportive and expressed a number of concerns.
John Gage, president AFGE, and Gregory Junemann, president International Federation Of Professional and Technical Engineers, were very critical of the regulations and in what they said was disregard for stakeholder rights.
"As you know, Public Law 108-136 protects the right of employees to organize, bargain collectively, and to participate through labor organizations of their own choosing in decisions that affect them. Specifically, the Coalition has reiterated that Congress intended to have the NSPS preserve the protections of Title 5, Chapter 71, which DoD’s proposals attempt to eliminate. DoD’s position, made manifest in its proposed regulations, is that Chapter 71 rights interfere with the operation of the new human resources management system it envisions and hopes to implement.
"Our unions have expressed strong objections to DoD’s total abandonment of Chapter 71, along with the law associated with the statute’s interpretation," they said in a joint statement.
Perhaps Richard Oppedisano, national secretary of the Federal Managers Association, summarized some of the concerns best when he stated that the success of the new system may hinge on proper training.
"Two key components to the successful implementation of NSPS and any other major personnel system reforms across the federal government will be the proper development and funding for training of managers and employees, as well as overall funding of the new system. As any federal employee knows, the first item to get cut when budgets are tightened is training.
"A manager or supervisor cannot effectively assign duties to an employee, track, review and rate performance, and then designate compensation for that employee without proper training. As a corollary, if there is not a proper training system in place and budgets that allow for adequate training, the system is doomed for failure from the start," Oppedisano warned.