Acting Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England told Pentagon reporters Wednesday that the department has been meeting with union leaders, but added that if a lawsuit is filed it will be up to the courts to decide if the new system has the same legal problems as the DHS program.
"In my judgment we have a different program, a different law, and I believe that we have met the spirit and the intent of what the Congress wanted us to do," said England. "Obviously whatever happens we will deal with, and proceed accordingly."
Under the new system, Defense Department leaders, including Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and the secretaries of the various branches of the armed services, would be able to override provisions of the collective bargaining agreements. It would give Rumsfeld greater flexibility to change workers' assignments, allowing him to put civilians in some administrative jobs currently held by armed services members, who could then move to military positions.
Rumsfeld has said the changes are critical to improving the management of the department's civilian work force, which totals about 750,000. Some would not be affected by the changes.
Training and initial implementation will begin next month, and the new job evaluation procedures would start for a trial period for about 60,000 workers next February. Other workers will be phased in after that. England said he did not know how much the move to the new system will cost. It will require that some contracts be renegotiated.
Roth and other union officials said the changes would give Pentagon leaders unprecedented authority to override arbitration decisions and violate employee rights.
A federal judge in August blocked DHS from implementing similar workplace rules, saying they would erode employee bargaining rights and allow agency officials to unilaterally declare contract terms null and void. Earlier this month, the court rejected a revised DHS proposal to move ahead with portions of the new system.
Pay Plan Looms Over Defense Department's Workplace Ranking
By Stephen Barr
Thursday, October 27, 2005; B02
The Defense Department is not the worst place or the best place to work in government, according to an index released last month. The index pegged Defense at No. 15 out of 30 ranked agencies.
The department scored poorly on pay, benefits and family-friendly policies but better than average in such categories as teamwork and leadership, according to the Partnership for Public Service and American University's Institute for the Study of Public Policy Implementation. Yesterday, Gordon R. England , acting deputy secretary of defense, announced that the Pentagon had wrapped up an ambitious plan he called "a win for our employees." With its plan, he said, the department has a chance to create "a very dynamic and satisfying environment for our employees."
The plan, in the making for 18 months, would dramatically change how 650,000 Defense civil service employees are paid, curb union rights and streamline appeals by employees facing demotions and other severe disciplinary actions.
Members of the American Federation of Government Employees, one of the largest unions at Defense, are skeptical -- and many have been from the first time they heard about the plan.
"The rank and file in Columbus, Ohio, is very scared," said Patty Viers , who represents employees in Defense accounting and supply operations. Ohio employees are worried about possible changes that would determine who goes and who stays during layoffs and about rules that would link pay raises more rigorously to job performance, she said.
Keith Hill , an AFGE member who works at the Tobyhanna Army Depot in Pennsylvania and will soon go to Afghanistan to repair computer equipment, said the Pentagon has not provided employees with compelling reasons of why changes are needed in pay, appeals and union rights. "We fought long and hard to get the protections we have, and they are being stripped away," he said.
Within the next few days, AFGE, joined by a coalition of labor organizations, will be in court seeking to block the Pentagon's plan, contending that the plan undermines collective bargaining. The court battle could be long and may throw Defense off its timetable, which calls for pay and performance management changes to start next year.
England said the department formally notified Congress yesterday afternoon that it will file its final regulation today to create the National Security Personnel System. The notification gives Congress 30 days to review the regulation.
The department will launch new labor-management rules after the 30-day period ends, assuming no delays caused by union litigation. Starting in February, the Pentagon will roll out the first phase of its pay-for-performance system. The first phase will cover 65,000 employees, followed by an additional 48,000 in the spring and 120,000 in September and October.
Under the NSPS, the department will have "the opportunity to provide an environment for our people to excel, to be challenged and to be rewarded. . . . I continue to believe that the vast, vast majority of our people will embrace NSPS," England said.
Many of the details on how the NSPS will work and what it means to employees will not be known until the department begins issuing directives to implement the plan. Some of the directives will void parts of labor contracts, further roiling unions.
England said the department will spend the first half of next year in "a learning process" so that employees can adjust "before it really counts."
He added: "If we have problems, we'll stop and adjust. . . . We want the system to work right for everyone."
Corps mulls privatizing locks jobs
By Ed Tibbetts
More than 2,000 government employees who work at locks and dams face the chance their jobs will be privatized, and some area lawmakers are trying to keep that from happening. Among them is U.S. Rep. Lane Evans, D-Ill.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is studying whether to seek bids from private firms to do the operations and maintenance work that government employees now handle at 20 locks and dams within the Rock Island District, which is headquartered on Arsenal Island. About 300 employees in the district could be affected.
A decision on whether to move forward with the solicitation, which also would likely include a bid from federal workers, has not been made yet. But Evans and 54 other congressmen, including U.S. Rep. Ray LaHood, R-Ill., wrote a top Army official last month, asking that the effort be stopped.
The letter stated that the lock and dam operators and maintenance workers are “essential duty personnel.”
“The on-site tasks performed by these federal workers are intimately related to the public interest and are vital to maintaining and safeguarding our economic stability and evolving homeland security,” the letter to Army Secretary Francis Harvey stated.
Three years ago, the Corps determined that lockmasters perform an “inherently governmental function,” but that decisions by operators involve “technical functions rather than the making of value judgments,” Maj. Gen. Robert Griffin, deputy commander of the Corps, said in a letter responding to the legislators.
As a result, the operations and maintenance jobs are susceptible to privatization. Inherently governmental jobs are exempt. Griffin added that the Corps still would maintain oversight of the locks and dams.
Union critics of the idea say private contractors would not be able to supply the same service and reliability as federal workers.
Floyd Smith, president of the American Federation of Government Employees, Local 584, which represents workers on Arsenal Island, said tow operators and others are satisfied with the job that is done on locks and dams.
“I think the public is very happy,” he said.
If private contractors were hired, he said, the Corps might be susceptible to work stoppages. “We can’t strike,” he added.
Typically, about 13 people operate a lock and dam in the Rock Island District. Another 60 people perform maintenance functions.
The decision to put the jobs up for competition is part of a broader effort within the Corps to submit 7,500 positions to private competition through 2008. Already, a competition is under way to determine how information management services will be provided at the Corps. About two dozen jobs on Arsenal Island could be affected.
In January, the Bush administration reported a projected savings of $1.4 billion over a three- to five-year period resulting from the government-wide competitions that were conducted in fiscal year 2004.
Competitions between private companies and government workers are not uncommon on Arsenal Island. Information technology workers on the installation lost a battle with a private contractor in 2002. The contests typically involve soliciting bids from private companies who often compete with the government workers who submit their own proposals.
An Evans spokesman, Steve Vetzner, said the congressman from Rock Island is exploring legislative avenues to stop the competition. Union officials also are seeking allies in the Senate to prevent it from going forward.
Pentagon Moves to Alter Personnel System
Some Unions Prepare to Sue Over Proposed Changes in Labor Relations Provisions
By Christopher Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 27, 2005; A25
Pentagon officials announced yesterday that they soon will begin implementing a controversial personnel system that they believe can withstand the kind of legal challenge that has hampered a similar plan at the Department of Homeland Security.
The National Security Personnel System, which eventually will cover 650,000 civilian employees, will replace the familiar 15-grade General Schedule pay system with one in which raises are linked to annual performance evaluations.
The new work rules also would curtail the power of labor unions and make it easier to hire, promote and discipline employees -- all in the name of making the Defense Department more nimble in the struggle against terrorism.
The new system gives the federal government's largest department "the opportunity to provide an environment for our people to excel, to be challenged and to be rewarded," Gordon R. England, the acting deputy secretary of defense, said in a briefing for reporters yesterday.
"I continue to believe the vast majority of our people will embrace NSPS because of the opportunities it provides them and the challenges they will have," he added.
The early reviews are not so favorable. At least five federal employee unions, led by the American Federation of Government Employees, say they will file a lawsuit in federal court to challenge the labor relations portions of the new system.
The unions contend that the new work rules would gut collective bargaining in violation of federal law. And they maintain that the department did not live up to its obligation to consult with employees' representatives in developing a new labor management system.
A similar lawsuit against Homeland Security has effectively delayed the implementation of a new pay system there by as much as a year.
In August, U.S. District Judge Rosemary M. Collyer faulted the new DHS system for undermining employees' rights to collective bargaining, and blocked implementation of new rules governing labor relations and employee appeals. DHS has not said whether it will appeal.
Mark Roth, AFGE's general counsel, said the Pentagon's new system is similarly flawed. "They've done a lot of the same things in these regs that Judge Collyer found illegal in our DHS lawsuit," he said. "They've changed the terminology, but it's still the same substance."
The department will publish the new work rules in the Federal Register today, triggering a 30-day congressional review period. Pentagon officials hope to implement the labor relations portions -- including a new internal labor relations board controlled by the defense secretary to resolve labor management disputes -- department-wide immediately after that.
Pay raises for 2006 would be awarded according to the current system. About 113,000 employees would move to the new pay system by April, with all of them having to go through the new annual performance evaluations for at least a portion of their raises in 2007.
An additional 160,000 workers would move to the new pay system late next year but would not see their raises affected until 2008. The remaining 377,000 employees would join the system later.
By law, no worker's salary can be decreased in the move to the new system.
Bush administration officials have said that elements of the new systems at both DHS and Defense could serve as guides for government-wide changes in civil service rules.
"All of us through the government are watching how this goes," Linda Springer, head of the Office of Personnel Management, said at yesterday's briefing. "There's a lot at stake."
England and other administration officials noted that union contracts can already be overridden in some circumstances. They also said their plan can withstand a lawsuit because it was devised under a different law than the one that allowed DHS to rewrite its personnel rules.
"We have a different program, a different law," England said. "And I believe that we have met the spirit and the intent of what the Congress wanted us to do. This is a very balanced program. It provides all the protections."
Roth, the AFGE official, disagreed.
"We're just very disappointed. We have a lot of interests in common -- good management, fast decisions, effective decisions," he said. "We think it's doomed to failure. We don't think these regulations are going to lead to a better system."
DOD, OPM TO RELEASE NSPS REGULATIONS TODAY
The Department of Defense and the Office of Personnel Management Wednesday submitted National Security Personnel System regulations to be published in today’s edition of the Federal Register.
NSPS is a performance-based human capital system that will affect approximately 700,000 DoD civilian employees regarding pay and classification, performance management, hiring, workforce shaping, disciplinary matters, appeals procedures and labor-management relations.
“We’ve worked very hard over the past 18 months to develop this system as a win-win-win -- win for our employees, a win for the Department and win for the nation,” said Acting Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England.
Upon yesterday’s submission, Congress has 30 days to review the final regulations before the system’s labor relations portion becomes effective. The human resources component is scheduled to “progressively begin in February,” said England.
“Our role is to ensure all the merit systems principles -- due process, prohibited practices prohibitions, veterans preferences -- are preserved throughout the development of regulations and their implementation. I can tell you today that all of those have been preserved and accurately retained in these regulations,” said OPM Director Linda Springer.
Proposed NSPS regulations were released in February and England said both DoD and OPM collaborated with employee groups in drafting the final regulations.
American Federation of Government Employees National President John Gage disagreed with England’s assessment.
“We expressed our concerns to DoD and OPM representatives…only to be told that the administration had already arrived at its own position, essentially refusing to even discuss, in any meaningful way, these issues of great importance to civilian workers in the Department of Defense,” said Gage.
NSPS will be implemented on a multi-year schedule. The system’s labor relations portion will be phased in by December. The human rersources component and the appeals process will be phased in once implementing issuances are in place and training is underway.
Spiral One of the transition to NSPS, comprising approximately 270,000 employees, will be phased in over the next year. Spiral 1.1 organizations, with about 65,000 employees, should transition employees to new performance standards beginning in early 2006. These organizations will fully convert to NSPS after employees receive the January 2006 general pay increase and within grade buy-ins.
Spiral 1.2 organizations will begin operating under the HR and appeals system in spring 2006, with Spiral 1.3 conversions occurring later in the year.
“We’re anxious for DoD to succeed, and we know they will succeed and will be confident as they proceed,” said Springer.
Pentagon fine-tunes personnel reforms
By Karen Rutzick
The Defense Department has tweaked its new personnel regulations for civilian employees in response to public comments, officials said at a press briefing Wednesday.
Chief among the modifications to the rules, which will cover 650,000 employees, is a limit on who can override collective bargaining agreements. The final regulations allow only the Defense Secretary, deputy secretary and "principal staff assistants" to override contracts.
In August, a federal judge ruled that the Homeland Security Department's personnel system was illegal because it did not adequately provide for collective bargaining, in large part because it gave management the power to override existing contracts at any time.
NSPS officials said that the law authorizing the Pentagon's system is different from the one authorizing DHS' system, in that it does allow for such a power.
The final regulations on the National Security Personnel System will be published Thursday in the Federal Register, Defense officials said. Officials did not provide text of the final regulations at the briefing. Instead, they provided a press release highlighting certain changes.
Another modification is the standard for mitigation of adverse actions under the Merit Systems Protection Board. In the draft regulations, employees could only have adverse actions mitigated if they were "wholly without justification." The new version narrows the standard down to "totally unwarranted in light of all pertinent circumstances."
The new standard is similar to that used by federal circuit courts, NSPS officials said, and while it is lighter than the one originally floated, it is still stricter than the current standard, which allows the board to reduce penalties that it finds unreasonably harsh.
Another key area reviewed in the DHS case was the role of the Federal Labor Relations Authority in handling labor disputes. The judge ruled that DHS did not have the power to put the FLRA in an appellate role, which it had done by creating an internal labor relations board as the first line of action.
After the judgment, DHS attempted to revise its system and remove the FLRA completely, but the judge said that did not allow for enough of a check on the internal board.
The Pentagon is moving ahead with its plan to use the FLRA as an appellate body for its own internal labor relations board, despite DHS' setback. George Nesterczuk of the Office of Personnel Management, which collaborated with the Defense Department on the NSPS, said that's because the law Congress passed to create the NSPS gave the department the specific authority to designate a body to an appellate role.
Unions are criticizing the Pentagon for not consulting with them adequately in the process of creating of the this system. NSPS was "developed without consideration of issues of concern to the unions that represent the department's civilian employees," the American Federation of Government Employees said in a statement Wednesday.
In the briefing, however, Navy Secretary Gordon England, who headed the NSPS effort in the Pentagon, said just the opposite.
"This has been, I believe, an extremely collaborative process," England said. "Frankly, whoever could help us has been consulted."
NSPS officials outlined the timing for rollout of the new system as well. The labor relations portion of the system will go into effect immediately after a mandated 30-day review by Congress. The human resources portion, including the pay-for-performance system, will be implemented in phases after that.
The first three phases cover General Schedule employees. The first will include 65,000 employees and will happen in February. The second will covering 48,000 employees and is set to happen in March or April, and the third, for 120,000 employees, will roll out in September or October of 2006.
Part of the plan is to replace locality pay with a more market-sensitive pay adjustment, so that two different professions in the same city could receive different pay raises based on the demand for that particular profession. NSPS officials said they will not implement this policy for at least a year, to give them time to conduct market surveys in each locality.
Defense officials did not give specifics on pay ranges or pay bands. Those details will be communicated to employees after the final regulations are published.
New Orleans TSA Screeners Find a Port After Katrina
Posted: October 26th, 2005 11:07 AM EDT
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Larry Weber fled New Orleans two days after Hurricane Katrina hit, eventually heading east in his Honda Accord on an eerily dark interstate and stopping anywhere he could find gas.
He made it to Atlanta, where his grown daughter has a four-bedroom house. He didn't know it at the time, but he also had a job waiting for him.
As a federal security screener at the New Orleans airport, Weber, 62, could report for duty at any U.S. airport and be guaranteed a job for six months.
The Transportation Security Administration calls it the "Safe Haven" program, and it has helped Weber and other screeners find some stability after the storm.
The program --- in place for several years --- adds some extra cost to the TSA's budget, although the agency is paying New Orleans screeners their full salary whether they are working at another airport or not.
Each of the 12 screeners who relocated to Atlanta gets a daily housing and food allowance of up to $164, depending on how much help they're also getting from the Federal Emergency Management Agency or the Red Cross. The allowance varies by city, based on a cost-of-living formula.
"Everyone's arms have been wide open and welcoming," Weber said of his new co-workers in Atlanta. "They just opened up the love gates."
Weber says he has had it easier than some of his former New Orleans colleagues. One was rescued from the roof of her home as the floodwaters rose. The TSA provides counseling and has helped the new workers find housing and paid their travel expenses --- including Weber's $3.30-a-gallon gas on his trip to Atlanta.
Each of the screeners went through a brief orientation, then began working at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport's main checkpoint. Weber started Sept. 19. Like Weber, most of the New Orleans screeners do the early morning shift, 3:30 a.m. to noon.
"They're just pretty much grateful they have a place to go and a job to go to," said Bill Lyons, an organizer for the American Federation of Government Employees who has met with some of the new Atlanta screeners.
Houston's Bush Intercontinental Airport received the biggest number of former New Orleans screeners --- 21.
The program helps Hartsfield-Jackson, which has reduced its screener force because of a federally imposed cap on hiring. The New Orleans screeners don't count against Atlanta's limit, said TSA spokesman Christopher White.
They'll be especially needed come Thanksgiving, which is expected to be the busiest since 2000.
Weber was on duty at the New Orleans airport before Hurricane Katrina hit.
After the last plane left, he unplugged metal detectors to protect them from power surges and moved equipment away from windows. He and his co-workers then retreated to an airport Hilton hotel where they ate cold sandwiches and watched the storm through plate glass windows.
"It looked like a normal hurricane," said the lifelong New Orleans resident. Because they only had sporadic news from the radio and cellphones, it was days before he realized the extent of the damage.
Weber's family members, including his 82-year-old mother, left the city before the storm hit. His mother's home in the upper Ninth Ward and his apartment were destroyed.
For now, Weber has found comfort in the New Orleans-style decor of his entrepreneur daughter's Buckhead home, with its elaborate fireplace mantels in every room and antiques and artwork from the French Quarter.
He soon will move into his own apartment. If his mother is willing to relocate to Atlanta, he may decide to stay here, he said.
Weber said he finds some solace in the belief that, in an uncertain world, he at least is helping to make the skies safer for travelers.
"Air safety is something we can control," he said. "The weather we can't control."
US Senate to Take Up Immigration Reform Issues in November
By Mil Arcega
26 October 2005
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United States President George Bush is urging lawmakers to approve a multi-billion dollar plan to crackdown on illegal immigration. Nearly everyone agrees the immigration system needs comprehensive reforms, but there is fierce debate on how to fix it.
As many as 11 million immigrants may be working illegally in the United States, and the US chamber of Commerce says the actual number could be double that, if non working family members are included.
The national federation, which represents business interests in the United States, says America's immigration system is broken and needs to be fixed; a sentiment shared by President Bush who signed a $32 billion homeland security bill this week.
Mr. Bush wants to secure America's borders and get tough on illegal immigrants, but still fill the need for foreign workers. "We need to find a way to fill that demand by matching willing employers with willing workers from foreign countries on a temporary and legal basis."
The reforms, which still need congressional approval, include a temporary guest worker program that would allow undocumented aliens to work in the US for three years before they have to return to their home countries to apply for a new work permit.
The president's proposal also sets aside funds for more border enforcement guards, detention facilities and high tech improvements.
While there is agreement change is needed, there is disagreement on how it should be done.
Senators John McCain and Ted Kennedy want to give illegal immigrants an avenue to become legal US residents without the need to go home. Senator Kennedy says, "The principle difference is he (the President) would have those individuals return to the country, it doesn't really make a great deal of sense economically and it doesn't make sense from a humane point of view."
President Bush is opposed to granting amnesty to illegal (immigrants) already in the country and so is Senator McCain. He says his bill would require illegal immigrants to pay a $2,000 fine so they can apply for a tamper proof identification card before they can be eligible to work. "And then they would have to work for 6 years and then be eligible for a green card and get at the end of the line, which would probably take another 5 years. Anybody who calls that amnesty doesn't read the same dictionary I do, we think it's pretty tough.."
But not tough enough for the head of the National Border Patrol council. The union which represents more than 10,000 border patrol agents wants all illegal immigration halted.
T.J. Bonner claims illegal immigrants take away jobs and lower the quality of life in America. "It happened in the meat packing industry in the Midwest where you had Americans working for $18 an hour displaced by people who were recruited in Mexico to work for $6 an hour. It's happened in the drywall industry and many industries around the country."
But members of the Hispanic community, the largest and fastest growing minority in the US, say illegal immigrants take jobs Americans don't want.
Entire industries such as agriculture and construction rely on cheap immigrant labor.
Hector Flores, the national leader of the League of United Latin American Citizens or LULAC, says the economy would shut down if the US got rid of all illegal workers. "They're paying taxes like anybody else, they're working to contribute to our economy, we need to look at this very seriously and they need to be rewarded for that and not penalized."
LULAC endorses what it calls the practical approach taken by Senators McCain and Kennedy.
But while the debate goes on, an estimated 900,000 illegal immigrants cross the US, Mexican border every year. The illegal border crossings have prompted hundreds of volunteers to join a controversial civilian group called the Minutemen, who patrol the border, reporting suspicious activity to authorities.
Chuck Floyd says he joined to help protect his country. "Just in April when we were down In Arizona, we patrolled 23 miles and we stopped over 3,000 illegal (immigrants) in one day, just one day."
The Minutemen say in addition to illegal (immigrants) that are looking for work, the porous border is also vulnerable to infiltration by terrorists.
But some civil rights groups accuse the Minutemen of being vigilantes and racists, a charge the group strongly denies.
The Senate is expected to take up the issue of immigration reform in November.
Stopping Terror At The Border
TIJUANA, Mexico, Oct. 26, 2005
(CBS) The United States projects a record 4,000 immigrants from so-called "high risk" countries in the Middle East and Asia, will be arrested trying to enter the country illegally this year.
Far more will get through. Add to that Mexico's recent seizures of high powered weapons, including rocket launchers found in Tijuana, and U.S. officials fear a troubling new threat on our porous southern border, reports CBS News correspondent Bill Whitaker.
"If it's so simple for an uneducated, impoverished laborer to come across the border, think about how much easier it is for a highly trained, well financed terrorist," warns T.J. Bonner, president of the Border Patrol union.
From Tijuana to Texas, the entry routes are well established and well known around the world.
And nothing seems to work. The U.S. government has put up lights and cameras, but still the immigrants come (video).
Flooding across even where you'd least expect. Surveillance video from U.S. Army Ft. Huachuca on the Arizona-Mexico border. Thousands cross here, right under the nose of the military, even during target practice.
Wouldn't a terrorist know this is a porous border?
"Of course," replies Janice L. Kephart, former counsel to the 9/11 Commission.
"Terrorists will use any means to get here. They are using alien smuggler and document forgers to help move people through Iran and Pakistan and it would only make common sense they would use it again to get in the United States," Kephart says (video).
U.S. border officials are quick to point out there is no credible evidence of terrorists actually slipping across, but there are red flags. One Lebanese native living in Tijuana, convicted of smuggling 200 Lebanese into the United States, some with known ties to Hezbollah, which the United States considers a terror group.
On a visit to the Arizona border, Colorado congressman Tom Tancredo got a firsthand look at smuggling routes.
"We've found copies of the Koran, we have found prayer rugs, we have found a lot of stuff written in Arabic, so it's not just people from Mexico coming across that border," Tancredo, a Republican, explains.
And after shutting down more than 30 drug tunnels under the Mexican border, authorities recently discovered the first ever under the Canadian border.
"That tunnel could be used to smuggle aliens into the U.S., it can be used to smuggle equipment for those that can do harm to the United States," Leigh Winchell with Immigration and Customs Enforcement says.
Bonner concludes, "I mean, I don't want people to stay up at night and not sleep, but I want them to wake up to the fact that our borders are wide open."
America's enemies know it.