Overhaul Objections

Unions leaders allege that the creators of the NSPS did not follow a congressional requirement to consult with employees and their representatives while developing the personnel system.

In 2003, Congress granted Defense the right to dramatically overhaul its personnel system to provide increased flexibility. Pentagon officials recently unveiled a proposal that would scrap the General Schedule pay system, implement performance pay, limit collective bargaining opportunities and loosen employee termination policies.

Labor leaders have charged that the department and the Office of Personnel Management withheld vital information about the new system and refused to incorporate union input.

The lawsuit - which was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia - names Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Acting OPM Director Dan Blair as defendants.

The suit was filed by the American Federation of Government Employees, the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers, the Metal Trades Department of the AFL-CIO, the National Federation of Federal Employees, the International Association of Fire Fighters, and the National Association of Government Employees, among others.

The Pentagon was required "to consult with employees and representatives of the employees," said Joseph Goldberg, assistant general counsel at AFGE. "The Department of Defense has absolutely failed on that statutory obligation."

On Wednesday, NSPS officials said they could not comment directly on the lawsuit but offered a more general statement defending the development of the new system.

"The proposed NSPS regulations are the product of a broad-based, collaborative effort across the department that began last year," said Bradley Bunn, NSPS deputy program executive officer. "This included a number of meetings with employee representatives involving extensive and fruitful discussions on potential options for the design of the system. In several areas, the proposed regulations reflect the interests and concerns that were voiced during those consultation sessions."

The department is required to respond to the lawsuit within 60 days.

The lawsuit asked the court to force the defendants to disclose details on what it termed "secret working groups" and block the implementation of the NSPS. The suit also asked the court to effectively force Defense and OPM to develop a new personnel system with union input.

"For 10 meetings we got zero responses, except pious platitudes," said Ron Ault, president of the Metal Trades Department. "We need to go back to square one, sit down and start talking."

Union officials said the proposed regulations are unacceptable and illegal in their current form.

"The whole proposed system is built on sand," Goldberg said. "They need to build an appropriate and legal foundation for their system."

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