Monmouth workers: Base move would affect union rules

"They need us to do our jobs so that that they can do their jobs," John Bellantoni, a logistics management specialist at Fort Monmouth, said of the soldiers he supports through his work on aviation equipment. "By having the (worker) guarantees that have been painfully built up over the last 150 years, we have become an effective, functional defense establishment."
Bellantoni, 58, is one of more than 5,000 civilian employees at Fort Monmouth, which the Pentagon has recommended closing as part of an extensive reshuffling of military personnel designed to save money and improve efficiency. An independent commission is reviewing the recommendations and will report its conclusions to President Bush by Sept. 8.
Under the Pentagon's plan, Monmouth's research and development work on communications, electronics and sensing equipment would be transferred 125 miles away to the Army's Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland. A survey commissioned by Fort Monmouth supporters suggests that only 19 percent of current workers would move, a "brain drain" they warn would slow research.
Bellantoni said it's "very doubtful" he'll move to Maryland. He said new worker rules — known as the National Security Personnel System (NSPS) — would make it even less likely that he would move.
Union leaders say the rules, set to take effect in September, would make it easier to hire and fire workers, restrict the issues that workers could negotiate with management, and replace the current tenure-based pay system with one more weighted to performance.
Pentagon officials say the new system rewards performance and gives the military much-needed flexibility.
Union leaders say it would give supervisors the power to punish or get rid of anyone for personal or political reasons. The American Federation of Government Employees is suing to prevent the new rules from taking effect.
Worker protections are important, said John Poitras, president of the Local 1904 union that represents some 2,500 workers at Fort Monmouth.
"But you need a job first," said Poitras, who has focused on stopping the base closure. "Then you can deal with NSPS."
Aside from the roughly 5,000 civilian workers at Fort Monmouth, some 2,000 government defense workers at other military installations in New Jersey would be affected by the new workplace rules, said Derrick Thomas, a union official.

Robins workers go to D.C. to protest civilian personnel system

By Gene Rector
Telegraph Staff Writer
ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE - About 500 sweltering, federal union protesters - including some from Middle Georgia - braved the Washington, D.C., heat Tuesday hoping to rally congressional support for derailing the Defense Department's sweeping new civilian personnel system.
Janette McElhaney said she was "dripping" after the midday rally held in a park across from the Capitol.
"I thought it was hot at home," McElhaney said with a sigh of relief after the 90-minute program. McElhaney is a member of American Federation of Government Employees Local 987 in Warner Robins.
AFGE, the nation's largest federal workers organization, and other federal unions are protesting the National Security Personnel System scheduled for implementation beginning in September. NSPS will replace the decades-old General Schedule system. More than 12,000 workers at Robins Air Force Base eventually will fall under the new approach to evaluating, paying and promoting civilian employees.
McElhaney, joined by three other Local 987 members, said organizers probably hoped for a larger turnout at the rally.
"But there was spirit," she said by cell phone. "People were positive and they will go back to their locals and contact their congressmen. I think the turnout was very good considering it came in the middle of the week."
Tom Scott, Local 987 president, did not attend the rally, but said he had talked with the local attendees. He characterized the protest as a "last-ditch effort" to get Congress involved.
"It's all we can do," he said. "We're fighting to get Congress to see the light. We're hoping they will step in and tell Mr. England to consult with us, renegotiate and not offer just a blanket no."
Gordon England is an acting deputy defense secretary.
The major NSPS sticking point is a provision that ties pay increases to performance. Currently, workers receive raises through annual cost-of-living and longevity or "step" increases. NSPS will eliminate both categories. The new system also restricts union negotiations, particularly of broad issues, to the Defense Department level rather than to major commands or individual bases.
"We don't agree with pay for performance," Scott said, "because everyone eventually will fall under a standard type blanket. It will affect morale. Everyone will get the same because it will be too much trouble (for supervisors) to figure out which employees exceed the standard."
He also believes civilian employees will lose under the new system.
"Budget constraints will limit pay for performance," Scott said. "Everything is getting cut in the Defense Department and civilians will be at the bottom end of the shaft."
Michael O'Hara, director of civilian personnel at Robins, does not expect Congress to intervene. "NSPS is law. It's statute," he said. "We can't quibble now over which direction the law has taken. It's cast in stone. We simply have to deal with it effectively and make it work for the good of the warfighter, the center and the work force as a whole."
O'Hara hopes workers participate in a current NSPS survey. He said their input will influence the final direction of the new system. AFGE has objected because it contends individual worker input can be traced since the survey asks for six digits of the employee's Social Security number and a birth date.
O'Hara said the survey is not about "picking people out of a lineup" or punishing them for not liking NSPS.
"We already know a lot of people don't like NSPS," he said. "The survey is simply a way to get the pulse of the work force and determine if there ought to be changes around the edges to accommodate the true desires of the majority."
He's not surprised that NSPS has generated nationwide concern and protest. He said it's the most sweeping change for federal workers since the Pendleton Act of 1883.
"So it needs to be well thought out and deliberate," he said. "It's revolutionary and when it's revolutionary, you're going to stir people up. That's what we're seeing. There is no perfect performance evaluation system. But we've got to do better than we have in the past. That's one of the challenges of NSPS."
At Rally, Searing Rhetoric Against Overhauling the Defense Personnel System
By Stephen Barr
Wednesday, July 13, 2005; B02
Washington's hot and humid weather served as a battle cry for several speakers at a union rally yesterday in a Senate park across Constitution Avenue from the Capitol.
"It is hot out here," Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (Md.), the Democratic whip, told the crowd of federal union members, "but you want to make it hotter."
Rep. Jay Inslee (D-Wash.) urged the union activists "to apply some of the heat in this plaza to members of Congress."
"Raise some hell," Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) advised.
The heated rhetoric was aimed at the National Security Personnel System, an ambitious Pentagon plan to overhaul pay and personnel rules for Defense Department civil service employees. Rally speakers denounced the NSPS and urged union members to lobby Congress to block them.
"We think Congress has been snookered and misled," Byron W. Charlton , an AFL-CIO official helping lead the United Department of Defense Workers Coalition, told the crowd.
The union effort to roll back the Pentagon's plan may be too starting too late, however.
The Pentagon published a proposed regulation four months ago that would toss out the decades-old General Schedule pay system and replace it with the NSPS, a performance-based system that Pentagon officials contend will better reward the department's best workers. The NSPS also would revamp how employees appeal disciplinary actions and would limit the power of unions to bargain over workplace rules.
Although Congress has held a handful of hearings on the Pentagon plan, lawmakers have shown little interest in stopping the workplace changes, which were authorized in legislation two years ago. Republicans have signaled that they may consider modifications, if unions can provide specific examples of rule changes that appear unfair or go further than Congress intended.
Pentagon officials, meanwhile, continue to move forward with their NSPS plan. They appear on track to publish a final regulation by the end of August and launch the first wave of changes in October.
The officials also say they are open to feedback on their plan. Yesterday, Gordon England , the acting deputy defense secretary, and Linda M. Springer , director of the Office of Personnel Management, met with Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.), chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, to discuss the NSPS and other issues, congressional aides said.
John Gage , president of the American Federation of Government Employees, said yesterday that he thinks union members and federal employees have only started to grasp that the Pentagon plan would give more discretion to management and that his union has no choice but to keep pushing against the NSPS. Federal unions, including AFGE, have filed a lawsuit to stop parts of the NSPS.
The rally was sponsored by the coalition of Defense unions and included other labor organizations, such as the federal employee council of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.
Among the speakers were Reps. Walter B. Jones Jr. (R-N.C.) and James R. Langevin (D-R.I.); Richard L. Trumka , the AFL-CIO secretary-treasurer; Ronald E. Ault , president of the Metal Trades Department, AFL-CIO; Gregory J. Junemann , president of the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers; and several AFGE officials, including Gage.
"You have done a great job for this nation," Jones told the union members. "NSPS will not work. It is not fair to you."
Hoyer and other speakers said the NSPS could be a return to the days of political patronage in government, when civil service employees got raises and promotions based on who they knew rather than their knowledge and skills. Pay raises, Hoyer said, should be based "on merit and not on whim."
Rally organizers had predicted a large turnout, but estimates by participants ranged from fewer than 200 to about 400. Some union members said they had trouble guessing the size of the crowd because numerous union members gathered under trees to avoid the sun and either arrived late or left early because of the heat.
Union members rally against Defense, DHS personnel changes
By Karen Rutzick
[email protected]
Hundreds of union members gathered near the Capitol on Tuesday to protest new personnel regulations in the Defense and Homeland Security departments.
Protesters decried the changes to the collective bargaining system and the replacement of the General Schedule with a pay-for-performance system they say is unfair. The unions argued that these changes will result in less pay, the elimination of whistleblower protections and lowered worker morale.
The systems in question are the proposed National Security Personnel System at the Defense Department and projected rules to be implemented Aug. 1 at DHS.
Among the speakers at the rally was House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md. Speaking over chants of "Steny! Steny!" Hoyer talked about the potential for unfair favoritism in the proposed pay-for-performance system.
"We want a civil service based on merit," Hoyer said, "not on whose coffers you contributed to, not on the whim of whoever happens to be a political appointee at the time."
The speakers also focused on equality between civil service workers and military personnel, both in their importance and treatment.
"Taxpayers should be outraged," said John Gage, president of the American Federation of Government Employees, which helped organize the rally. "The same courageous Americans, who protect our homeland, support our troops and care for our veterans, are being insulted and slapped around by the federal government."
Federal workers from Arizona, Arkansas, California, Iowa, Maine, Florida and many other states traveled to Washington to attend the rally, which included members from AFGE, the United DoD Workers Coalition and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.
David Owens, president of AFGE Local 1101, traveled from Alaska for the event. Owens works on Elmendorf Air Force Base near Anchorage.
"I gave up fishing this weekend to get here," Owens said. "Government employees have less rights under NSPS than people who work for Wal-Mart. You can't complain if your boss cuts your wage by 10 percent."
Owens said he and his union members also are worried about lack of due process, a loss of seniority rights and unwanted deployments. "I'm talking anything," Owens said. "We've been dealing with management for a lot of years, we know what's coming."
Speakers stood beneath a banner that read "Public Employees Stand Up For A Secure America," and the crowd was peppered with signs that said "Rumsfeld Unfair to Federal Employees" and "NSPS" with a red line through it. Heat and humidity forced many of the protesters into the shade on the sidelines.
A number of congressmen were on hand to speak at the rally. In addition to Hoyer, Reps. Jay Inslee, D-Wash.; Walter Jones, R-N.C.; and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., attended.
"I'm a conservative Republican," Jones said. "NSPS will not work. We will demand hearings on this issue."
In response to the rally, Homeland Security spokesman Larry Orluski said, "This is America, and everyone has the First Amendment right to assemble, and that's what they've done."
EPA lays out competitive sourcing details
BY David Perera
Published on Jul. 12, 2005

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The Environmental Protection Agency has selected 10 functions that may be ripe for inclusion in the agency’s push to competitively source an average of 200 positions a year through 2008.
Among the functions the agency’s Competitive Sourcing Council selected for possible competitive sourcing are information technology, records management and financial services. Also included are some grants management positions such as grants management specialists and project officers.
The preliminary list was shared with unions last week and will be discussed with assistant and regional administrators July 13. A final list of recommendations will be forwarded to EPA Administrator Steve Johnson by the end of the month, according to an agency statement.
Competitive sourcing is a controversial part of the President's Management Agenda that encourages agencies to compete jobs considered not inherently governmental with the private sector in an effort to cut government overhead.
Which jobs within the final functions selected for competition will be put up for bid will depend on the specific competition, said Luis Luna, EPA assistant administrator for administration and resource management, in a written statement.
Competitions require “considerable effort, taking weeks and even months following the decision on which functions to compete,” he said. “Only then will we have a fuller idea of how many actual positions could be affected by the competitions.”
Competition will not automatically result in jobs lost from inside the agency, he said. Competitive sourcing “means that the agency will be given the chance to show that our employees can do the job better and for less than outside competitors.”
Unions representing EPA workers are skeptical, however. The agency already relies heavily on contractors, said Diana Price, an American Federation of Government Employees procurement specialist. Within IT, the ratio is 10 to 1, according to EPA officials. Pressure from the Office of Management and Budget is forcing the agency to tip the balance even further, Price said.
“The only factor that matters to OMB is whether EPA is allowing contractors to get their hands on more taxpayers' dollars,” she added.
Vets' health care needs cash, then an overhaul
Allow flexibility of free care at any hospital.
The Department of Veterans Affairs underestimated the cost of veterans' health care this year by $1 billion. Now, Congress is rightly scrambling to find the needed dollars. Soldiers who risk their lives for this country are promised health care. Congress has an obligation to keep that promise.

But Congress also has an obligation to use taxpayer dollars efficiently. The outdated VA system doesn't make sense in the 21st century.

The veterans health-care system runs parallel to the country's existing network of clinics and hospitals. That duplication is inherently inefficient.
Tax dollars support staffing and maintaining clinics and hospitals that serve only one segment of the population. And sending veterans to specific locations means some are forced to drive long distances for their care and medication. It limits their choices in care. It further fragments an already fragmented health-care system.

What makes more sense: The government should grant insurance coverage to veterans, similar to the way it insures millions of Americans through government programs such as Medicare or Medicaid. With an insurance card in their billfolds, veterans could receive free care at any hospital. The government would reimburse the hospital for that care.
That would allow veterans to receive state-of-the-art treatment at facilities of their choosing. It would allow them to visit doctors and pharmacies closer to home. Existing hospitals could add staff to serve the special needs of veterans the way hospitals already staff diabetic educators or social workers. Perhaps federal dollars could even pay their salaries.

So after Congress backfills the latest shortfall in funding for veterans' health care, it should turn to restructuring that system.
The fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan is creating a new generation of war veterans to care for. As many as 30 percent of these soldiers could have post-traumatic stress disorder and other psychological ailments. More than 13,000 have been physically injured. For years to come, those veterans will need access to a modern, convenient health-care system that also makes good use of precious public dolla

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