Corpus Christi Army Depot employees file grievance

Workers were exposed to strontium chromate, a cancer-causing chemical applied as a primer for some helicopter parts used to in repairs at the depot, local union President Joe A. Gonzales said.
When drilled or sanded, the coating can become airborne. Many of the workers do not have proper protective equipment and some ventilation equipment is outdated or lacks repair, Gonzales said. Recent air quality testing showed unsafe levels of the chemical in the air, he said.
Base officials will consider the grievance. If they don't take action, the grievance will go into arbitration, said Gonzales.

Defense to hold off on implementing NSPS labor rules
By Karen Rutzick
[email protected]
The Defense Department and unions reached an agreement Wednesday to delay implementation of the National Security Personnel System's labor relations portions until February.
Government and union lawyers filed a joint request for the postponement at the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. The agreement is meant to make it unnecessary for unions to seek a temporary restraining order. Such an order would halt implementation until a judge has ruled on the merits of the case.
A coalition of 10 labor unions earlier this month sued the Defense Department over final regulations for NSPS, a system designed to streamline labor relations and replace the General Schedule with market- and performance-based compensation. The department published the regulations in the Nov. 1 Federal Register.
At the time, the Pentagon said it planned to implement the labor relations portion after a 30-day period of congressional oversight.
But the department now has agreed to delay reforms concerning employee appeals, labor-management relations, override authority for existing contracts, narrowing of negotiable topics and mandatory removal offenses. The creation of an internal National Security Labor Relations Board is included under labor-management relations.
The parties asked Judge Emmet Sullivan to set a hearing for the week of Jan. 9, but Sullivan is free to set the hearing at his own convenience.
Under the agreement, Defense still will be able to implement a few minor portions of NSPS before February. Most notably, the department can continue to train employees on the workings of the new system, and it can release implementing issuances, which provide details on how to carry out the regulations. Those issuances cannot take effect until Feb. 1, however.
The American Federation of Government Employees, which is part of the 10-union coalition, said the agreement benefits both sides.
"We're heartened that the matter can now be heard on its merits in good time," AFGE assistant general counsel Joe Goldberg said. "It will be heard quickly and be placed before a judge in a timely fashion."
A spokesperson for the Justice Department confirmed the agreement but referred calls for comment to the Defense Department. An NSPS spokesperson did not respond by press time.
In addition to the February delay, the two sides agreed on a timeline for legal action. If the unions file a request for a preliminary or permanent injunction, they must do so by Nov. 23 and the government must file a response by Dec. 8. The union would then need to file a reply by Dec. 22 and the government, by Jan. 5.
Sullivan was assigned a previous lawsuit over the Pentagon's process of creating the system, but dismissed it without prejudice to wait for the final regulations to be issued. He was reassigned this lawsuit because it is related to the previous one.

Agreement Reached to Delay NSPS
November 17, 2005
By Ralph Smith

The Department of Defense and the United Department of Defense Workers Coalition (UDWC) have reached an agreement to delay implementing the labor relations portion of the National Security Personnel System (NSPS) system until February 2006.

According to the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), AFGE and the Department of Justice will jointly petition the judge who has been assigned the case, to hear arguments on the merits during the week of January 9, 2006.

In return, DoD will refrain from implementing major portions of the new rules until February 1, 2006.

The agreement negates the need for the union to file a request for a temporary restraining order to halt the implementation of the new system. If a temporary restraining order had been granted, implementation of the system would be halted until there was a court ruling on the merits of the case. With the agreement, the agency will be able to continue preparing for the new system without actually implementing it.

AFGE cites five major points of disagreement. The areas of disagreement essentially go to the heart of the nature and scope of the new human resources system. The agency wants to implement a new system with different roles and responsibilities for the agency and unions representing civilians in the Department of Defense. The union does not like many of the major changes.

These are the five broad areas identified by the union as the major areas of disagreement. (The description is mine but the issues are the ones identified by AFGE.)
• 1. The nature and scope of collective bargaining under NSPS.
• 2. Appeal of labor-management disputes to an impartial third party by requiring that an internal board, appointed by the Secretary of Defense, review such issues.
• 3. The threshold for overturning or reducing disciplinary actions or penalties.
• 4. Concerns about lower pay which may result from the new system.
• 5. The role of veterans preference and seniority as factors to be considered during a reduction-in-force.

From this list, we can infer that there is no agreement on many or most of the most basic issues underlying the new NSPS system.

The agreement between the parties appears to be one of mutual convenience that was reached out of necessity of working within the legal process rather than an indication that there is any broad agreement on the substance of the new system. Look for the final outcome to be determined largely through the legal process.

Senate Passes DOD Authorization Bill, Tackles Acquisitions

By Jason Miller, GCN Staff

After almost a decade of cuts and stagnation, the Senate took the first step toward reinvigorating the Defense Department's acquisition workforce.

In the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal 2006, lawmakers called for DOD officials to increase the number of acquisition employees by 15 percent by fiscal 2009. The bill also calls for a focus on hiring workers with skills in specific areas, such as writing performance-based statements of work, systems engineering and conducting public-private competitions under Office of Management and Budget Circular A-76.

The Senate passed its version of the bill 98-0 last night. The bill now heads to conference with the House so the legislative bodies can iron out their differences. The House version did not contain any of the same acquisition provisions. Both the Senate and House Armed Services committees passed their versions of the bill in May; the full House also passed its version in May.

Under the provision, the Defense secretary could realign the workforce to meet the top six skill gap priorities. The secretary also should assess how the agency recruits, retains, re-trains and provides professional development for acquisition professionals over a 10-year period beginning in 2006.

Congress cut DOD's acquisition workforce in half during the 1990s, and retirements and private-sector opportunities have continued to shrink the agency's contracting workforce.

Part of the reason for the Senate's action is recurring acquisition problems in DOD that have sprung up over the past year, including the Air Force scandal involving Boeing Co. and Darlene Druyun and DOD's aptitude for "parking" billions of dollars in the General Services Administration's Federal Technology Service's IT Fund and using it for non-IT purchases.

The Senate bill also would extend the share-in-savings program by two years until 2007 and gives employees bid protest rights to the Government Accountability Office under A-76. The share-in-saving provision expired in September after two years of inactivity because OMB never finalized the Federal Acquisition Regulation rule. And some members have been supportive of giving feds bid protest rights for more than a year.

In addition to increasing the number of acquisition professionals, the bill calls for DOD to move all purchasing for goods and services over $100,000 to Contract Support Acquisition Centers by Sept. 30, 2009. Each service would establish a center, and the director of the center would develop policies, procedures and guidelines for acquisition planning, solicitation and contract awards, requirements development and management, contracting tracking and oversight, performance evaluation and risk management.

"Creating a new organization will not solve the problems," said Stan Soloway, president of the Professional Services Council, an industry trade association in Arlington, Va., and former DOD acquisition official. "First and foremost, this is a workforce issue. Until we get serious about the many levels of workforce challenges, no rule, no policy or structural change will deliver the results we seek."

The bill also called for the Defense Acquisition University to review and report to the undersecretary for acquisition, technology and logistics and Congress the contracting structure of each service and defense agency. DAU will: Determine the current structure of the organization Review the evolution of the current structure and identify any areas that have been divested in the past 15 years Identify capabilities needed by the organization and assess the capability of the organization to provide those skills and Identify any gaps or shortfalls for each organization. DAU should start with the Air Force, and eventually perform an evaluation for every service and Defense agency.

"We keep tinkering with structure and policy, but we haven't really gotten our arms around the biggest issue: the workforce," Soloway said. "I think the fundamental issue here is our failure to meaningfully invest in the workforce and meaningfully resource the workforce to do the job we want them to do."

Senators also added a provision that would require the Army to buy any future pieces of its Future Combat System through the Federal Acquisition Regulation Part 15, which insists on full and open competition and cost and pricing data, instead of under FAR Part 12, which is the streamlined method for commercial acquisitions.

"There are some on the Hill that think we should buy weapons systems using commercial buying methods. There are certain pieces [for which] you can [do it], but this is a continued evolution of the process. It has been a matter of contention. So they want DOD to use traditional buying authorities," Soloway said.

Finally, the secretary would set up a risk assessment team to assess the vulnerability of Defense contracts to waste, fraud and abuse. The team would include the inspector general and representatives of each of the services, the Defense Logistics Agency, the Defense Contract Management Agency and the Defense Contract Audit Agency. The risk assessment team would submit a report to the secretary and Congress within six months after the bill becomes law.

Skinner: DHS needs to improve data sharing of key units
By Alice Lipowicz,
Staff Writer
Existing IT systems are inadequate for sharing intelligence information between the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) units in the Homeland Security Department, according to a report from the DHS Inspector General Richard Skinner.

The widely anticipated, 175-page report recommends that CBP and ICE be merged to improve operations. DHS officials testified at a House subcommittee hearing Nov. 15 that they considered merging the two large agencies, but rejected the idea because it would cause more bureaucratic delays.

“The time and attention that it would take to restructure these two organizations under one figurative head would divert critical resources away from where our focus must be—securing the border,” Stewart Baker, assistant secretary for policy at DHS, testified to the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Management, Integration and Oversight yesterday.

Among the findings in the report are that shortcomings in IT systems are contributing to the units’ lack of coordination.

CBP’s and ICE’s primary means of sharing intelligence is the Treasury Enforcement Communications System (TECS), according to the IG’s report. However, the system was not designed for that purpose, and many CBP personnel lack access to retrieve critical information entered into the system by ICE agents. Therefore, Customs agents, especially those in the field, are not receiving important intelligence.

“Furthermore, because the data system was not designed as an intelligence tool and does not highlight trends or detect anomalies, intelligence analysts often are unaware of the information it contains and must hunt through the entire system to retrieve information needed to ‘connect the dots,’” the IG report said.

Skinner cited the example of the pre-9/11 “Phoenix Memorandum,” written by an FBI agent, that noted that a large number of people with suspected terrorist links were enrolling in U.S. flight schools. The memo was “lost” in the FBI’s IT systems and not acted upon before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks because the systems were not designed to push intelligence out to field agents.

“Just as in the FBI’s case, CBP’s and ICE’s dependence on TECS could similarly result in lost or undisclosed intelligence,” Skinner wrote in the report.

Other IT-related findings in the new report include:
• CBP managers believe that making the U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology (U.S. Visit) program an independent entity outside CBP control was “a bad decision,” Skinner wrote. The Border and Transportation Security directorate has done a “terrible job” developing U.S. Visit to meet CBP’s operational requirements. As a result, U.S. Visit is poorly integrated with CBP’s requirements, the report said.

• The creation of regional intelligence centers to focus on the intelligence needs of both ICE and CBP field operations in those regions “may be a very effective and efficient means of conducting intelligence analysis and producing intelligence products,” the report said. The centers would work best if they have ICE and CBP agents working collaboratively in the same location.

As Time Winds Down, Postal Service Bill's Provision Wins Support
By Stephen Barr
Thursday, November 17, 2005; B02
The clock ran out on revamping the U.S. Postal Service in 2004, and it looks like the clock could run out again this year.
Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Thomas R. Carper (D-Del.), chief sponsors of a bill that would overhaul Postal Service business operations, announced yesterday that postal officials support a key provision in their bill.
Collins, chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, would require the Postal Service to operate under a cap linked to the consumer price index, providing flexibility in setting mail rates as long as the average came out to equal inflation. Her plan would provide a fresh start to rate setting and wipe out terms used in case law for the last 30 years.
That has brought a protest from Sen. Christopher S. Bond (R-Mo.), who has put a hold on the Collins bill. He has called for retaining use of a "fair and equitable" standard to ensure that the post office cannot play favorites when setting rates. The House has approved a postal overhaul bill with the fairness standard.
But Collins believes a price cap will ensure fairness, a point endorsed by Thomas G. Day , a postal executive, in a letter to Collins this week. The Senate bill, Day wrote, "ensures the Postal Service cannot unreasonably discriminate between mailers."
The Postal Service, he said, is "strongly opposed" to Bond's effort to modify the bill with a "fair and equitable" amendment.
The Collins-Bond impasse has gone on for three months. During this period, the postal board of governors went public with a list of concerns and said it did not want legislation that would give postal regulators greater sway over internal operations of the post office.
The White House also has problems with the legislation, opposing provisions in the House and Senate bills that would provide some financial relief to the Postal Service.
One dispute concerns whether the Postal Service or the Treasury Department should pay $27 billion in retirement benefits to postal workers for their military service. That obligation was placed on the Postal Service in 2003, even though historically the Treasury has covered such costs.
Another dispute involves the fate of an escrow account set up to hold savings of about $3 billion yearly from postal pension payments. A review by the administration discovered that the Postal Service had been overpaying on some pension obligations. Eliminating the escrow account would let the Postal Service spend the money for capital improvements or hold down rate increases.
The White House is wary that the pension issues could add to budget deficits, and some lobbyists in the mailing industry think the administration will try to kill any compromise bill that emerges from House-Senate negotiations.
NSPS Legal Dance
The government and federal unions have mapped out procedures for a legal challenge to the Pentagon plan for overhauling workplace rules for Defense Department civil service employees.
Under the agreement, presented to a federal judge yesterday for approval, the Pentagon will not implement any changes in labor-management relations or employee appeals procedures before Feb. 1. A coalition of federal unions, led by the American Federation of Government Employees, has filed a lawsuit to stop changes in those areas.
The agreement lays out a series of dates for the unions and the government to file motions with the judge, starting Nov. 23 and running through Jan. 5.
The agreement permits Defense to continue working on internal directives to launch the National Security Personnel System and, if it chooses, to continue collaborating with the unions and the Office of Personnel Management on development of NSPS.
Defense had planned to start its new labor-management rules shortly after Thanksgiving. The Pentagon plans to roll out the first phase of its pay-for-performance system in February.
"AFGE is pleased that we have worked out a method of challenging the legality of NSPS in an orderly fashion. And if that results in the delay of implementation, which it does, that is a useful byproduct of the lawsuit," said Joseph Goldberg , assistant general counsel at the union.
Bush administration officials, including Gordon England , the acting deputy defense secretary, and union officials are scheduled to testify before a Senate committee this morning on NSPS.

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