The National Security Personnel System (NSPS) Explained

Categories: DoD

What is the NSPS? 

Authority to create the National Security Personnel System was slipped into legislation soon after 9/11 in an atmosphere where giving vast discretion to the Secretary of Defense was politically popular.

Whom did it affect?

Approximately 730,000 defense workers might have eventually been under NSPS, but it was repealed after being tried on just about 100,000 DoD civilians.

How did it work?

It allowed the Department of Defense to bypass 11 major Civil Service protections, including:

  • Annual pay raises,
  • Step increases,
  • Appeal rights,
  • Collective Bargaining rights, and
  • Reduction-in-force protections.

Under the banner of "management flexibility" it created a pay band system with four career groups, eliminating the GS grade and step system for DoD's civilian employees. Its results were profoundly discriminatory. Women, minorities, and those working at a distance from the Pentagon all received lower raises than their white, male counterparts in the Pentagon despite having performance appraisals that were just as positive.

How did it end—and why does it matter today?

In 2009, NSPS was repealed by Congress after a prolonged legislative fight led by AFGE. It’s widely remembered as DoD’s most spectacular failure at personnel management. NSPS drastically lowered morale, was widely hated by employees, wasted vast amounts of managerial time and resources,  and reduced employee engagement.

But in September 2015, a new proposal highly reminiscent of NSPS was introduced. It would have the same damaging consequences for the Department of Defense—and ultimately the safety of our nation. Instead of creating policies to recruit, professionally develop and retain employees, the system appears designed to repeat the same mistakes.


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