GAO Answers Questions on How to Implement New HR Systems in Defense

The Comptroller General answers questions on what is necessary to implement NSPS in DoD.

With the publicity, controversy, and fear surrounding the implementation of new personnel systems for the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security, lawmakers are looking for answers regarding the new systems.

Will the systems work? Will they increase the efficiency or effectiveness of government? How will organizations and individuals be impacted?

The Comptroller General, David M. Walker,  was asked by the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs for his views on a number of questions regarding the National Security Personnel System (NSPS) for the Department of Defense.

He recently provided a written response to the questions and presented his views on several items regarding NSPS.

Here is a the highlights of the questions and Walker’s answers to some of these questions.
Some readers of FedSmith have pondered whether the Secretary of Defense could exempt any group of employees from the labor relations provisions of the NSPS program if he thought it would be necessary to do so.

The Comptroller General does not think this is an option under the current legislation and that giving the DoD Secretary would require clarifying legislation to give him this power.

Would the new NSPS system have an adverse impact on the employment of veterans?

The new regulations give veterans the same protections in the event of a reduction-in-force that they have under the current system, according to Walker. There is no assurance from GAO that the new regulations may not have an adverse impact on veterans though.

Will a system that rewards individual performance have an adverse impact on teamwork?

A performance based system would not necessarily have an adverse impact on teamwork. Walker says that high performing organizations use their performance management systems to strengthen accountability for results, by placing greater emphasis on promoting teamwork and collaboration.

What will happen with regard to employee appeals and will employees get less pay under the new system?

As a result of a recent court decision, DOD can implement the performance management, compensation and classification, staffing, and workforce shaping portions of the new system. The regulations on the scope of bargaining, composition of the National Security Labor Relations Board, and the standard for mitigation of adverse actions by the Merit Systems Protection Board may not move forward. How this will impact the final system is not known and will depend on future court decisions or changes made by DoD or Congress.

The agency’s final regulations cannot reduce employees’ basic rates of pay when converting to pay bands. However, employees’ compensation may increase at a rate higher or lower than under the current compensation system because under NSPS compensation is designed to be (1) market-based, with consideration of local market conditions to set pay rates, and (2) more performance-oriented.

Will the NSPS system put downward pressure on employee pay rates in the future and will there be an adverse impact on recruiting new employees?

Organizations generally structure their competitive compensation systems to separate base salary from  special incentives, such as merit increases, performance awards, or bonuses, which are provided based on performance and contributions to the success of the organization. DoD will have to periodically evaluate the impact of the system on employee recruiting, review retention statistics and also consider employee feedback to assure the NSPB system remains effective.

The new system is cited as not being fair or perceived as being fair by employees. What should be done to change this?

Before leaders of an organization can achieve major changes, they need to make a clear case that the status quo is unacceptable and unsustainable. They must also provide clear, comprehensive and compelling principles to frame the debate and help others understand the agency’s direction and objectives.

The organization also needs "champions" as part of a broad-based "big tent" approach to both crafting and selling reform proposals.

Leaders also need to recognize that any major reform proposal is likely to be revised before it is enacted. Revisions could include desirable improvements or compromises necessary to implement the changes. Quoting an "old say", Walker noted that "Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good."

Here is the complete text of the questions posed for GAO and the answers.