DHS Outlines New HR System

The Department of Homeland Security is moving forward with its new HR system.

The changes keep on coming for the federal civil service system. Last week, we reviewed the major changes to the Department of Defense human resources program. Now, the Department of Homeland Security is moving out to implement its own human resources system. The proposed regulations will be issued later this week.

The changes will be the most significant changes to the federal civil service system since the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978. It will also uproot pay systems in effect for federal employees since the 1940’s.

As an initial introduction to alleviate the concerns of employees, DHS officials assured everyone concerned that:

• No jobs will be eliminated;

• There will be no reduction in current pay or benefits;

• The proposed HR system will not change the rules regarding retirement, health or life insurance benefits, or leave entitlements;

• The proposed HR system will not address or change current overtime policies and practices, at least for now.

So that is what the system will not do. What are some of the more significant changes?

It is apparent the business approach of the administration is going to be reflected in the new pay system. Congress and the administration have apparently decided that the “one size fits all” system where virtually all federal employees moved in lockstep each year with pay increases and annual pay increases wasn’t working. That isn’t surprising. Most business owners would see the current system as a form of benign socialism rewarding all employees equally with little regard for overall performance of an individual.

Whether it will work any better than the merit pay system set up by the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978 remains to be seen. But one has to admit, the effort is certainly being made to introduce more “merit” into a pay and cultural system that has been hostile to these approaches in the past.

Here are some of the changes in the pay arena. There will be no more automatic step increases. Instead, wide bands that are open (e.g., no steps) and based on local labor market rates will be used to determine employees’ pay. Also, there may be annual rate adjustments in pay. However, these increases will be based on labor market conditions, mission, availability of funds, and the level of pay adjustments received by employees of other Federal agencies.

As you might have expected, there will also be changes in the labor relations program in DHS as the agency drops the labor relations statute (5 USC Chapter 71) and adopts its own system. DHS identifies the main features of the labor relations program as follows:

• Maintains the right to bargain collectively over the impact and implementation of other management rights below the Departmental level (i.e. appropriate arrangements/procedures for lay-offs, staffing, discipline, leave, and pay reductions) that significantly impact a substantial portion of the bargaining unit;

• Speeds up collective bargaining by imposing a 30-day time limit on all mid-term bargaining and 60-day deadline for term agreements;

• Encourages consultation and collaboration with unions (as opposed to bargaining which is used under the current statute)

• Establishes an independent DHS Labor Relations Board (instead of using the Federal Labor Relations Authority) to resolve all bargaining matters and disputes.

There have also been numerous complaints for years that it is impossible to fire a federal employee. While that is obviously not true, no one would dispute the appeals system is a challenge for any supervisor hardy enough to venture into the morass of appeals.

The new DHS system would tackle this issue as well and here are some of the changes in the adverse actions system:

• The same definitions for what constitutes an adverse action

• Establishes a single process for taking either a performance-based or a conduct based action

• Eliminates the requirement for a Performance Improvement Plan

• Includes a standard 15-day notice period of failure/proposed action and a 5-day right to reply (performance or conduct)

• Authorizes the Secretary to identify specific offenses for which removal is mandatory.

The appeals process would also change. Here is a brief outline of that new system:

• The system retains an independent review by allowing employees to appeal to MSPB, except for mandatory removal offenses;

• Establishes an independent DHS panel to review appeals of actions based on mandatory removal offenses;

• No changes have been made to EEOC-related appeals;

• Streamlines MSPB appeals through shortened processing and filing times for appeals, accelerated decision timeframes, etc.;

• Eliminates authority of MSPB or other parties to mitigate agency selected penalty except in cases of discrimination or other prohibited personnel practices.

• Encourages the use of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR).

When the proposed regulations come out, more details will be available. You can download a quick summary of the new system with more detail from one of the links on the left hand side of the page.

About the Author

Ralph Smith has several decades of experience working with federal human resources issues. He has written extensively on a full range of human resources topics in books and newsletters and is a co-founder of two companies and several newsletters on federal human resources. Follow Ralph on Twitter: @RalphSmith47