DoD Hopes to Move Fast on New HR System

The Dept. of Defense is moving out fast to implement a new personnel structure. David S. Chu, undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, explains the reason for moving quickly.

Last week, published an article on the new personnel system proposed by the Department of Defense. In the article, we did not speculate when the new system would go into effect. But, according to the Pentagon’s personnel chief, David S. Chu, DoD hopes to bring the first 300,000 civilian Defense Department employees under the new National Security Personnel System within the next six months.

Chu is the undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness for the agency. He said that young Americans are not excited about opportunities in the civil service but they do have a great deal of interest in the military. He would like to change the negative impressions people have of the civilian work force.

One way the agency hopes to create more excitement is to start rewarding employees based on their productivity rather than based on how long they have been on the job. “Pay, which now is often driven largely by tenure and longevity, will be much more tied to what you contribute to the mission and the organization,” according to Chu.

Chu is critical of the current system which puts too many roadblocks into using civil service employees for new jobs that need to be done. That reluctance may change with the new personnel structure and open up opportunities often not available to civilian employees. Chu says the standard response today is to establish a military task force or use a contractor. “They don’t say, ‘Let’s stand up a civil service unit,'” he said. “And there’s something wrong with that.”

As most readers know, the government can move very slow, especially with making significant changes. For example, Chu emphasized that while the new proposed personnel system is new, it is based on 25 years of experience in running demonstation projects. The oldest demonstration project, at the Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake in California, began in the 1970s.

People don’t like change and that is what the agency found in these demonstation projects. Initially there is a great deal of resistance to a new system. Chu says though that most employees involved in the demonstration projects “are much more satisfied with their opportunities in the federal civil service than they were before.” The Defense Department is attempting to take the most successful parts of these demonstration projects and put them into practice with the new personnel system.

There is little question that there will be considerable resistance from employees. has received a number of comments from employees regarding pay-for-performance and to say that there is resistance to the concept is an understatement. You can read these comments from readers at the end of the article on pay for performance.

This new system is one of the few major changes made to the federal civil system since the end of World War II. A substantial number of federal employees are projected to retire in the next several years. It is too early to know but it may be that implementation of this new system may result in some of these employees retiring earlier than they normally would just because they don’t like the changes brought about by a new human resources structure. Those remaining may reflect the attitude change DoD experienced in the demonstration projects. And, presumably, recent retirees will be replaced by new people who have not spent a career under the current system and are likely to be more receptive to working in a pay-for-performance culture.

In short, major changes are coming to the federal workforce and, at least for now, the Department of Defense is leading the rest of the workforce in creating a new personnel structure for the nation’s civil service workforce.

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