Changes to the pay system, effective April 1, include the elimination of a test that measures screeners' knowledge of standard operating procedures in 2008. Hawley said officials instead will develop new training standards that employees will be required to pass.
"We want our employees doing their job and gaining knowledge through training," he said, "not bogged down with assessment requirements."
Colleen Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, said Thursday that the SOP tests are an ongoing problem because they are not aligned with actual job duties and are based on constantly changing procedures. This temporary reprieve is welcome, she said, but TSA simply should eliminate the tests.
TSA also plans to tweak its image testing, which measures screeners' abilities to detect certain images on screening devices. Hawley acknowledged that screeners often are trained and tested on different standards, and he pledged to find a solution that would align training and testing but not adversely affect the workforce.
Hawley said he also will replace the PASS system's five rating categories, such as "role model" or "exceeds standards," with numeric scores. In addition, the agency will reduce the amount of required training for TSA screeners in 2009.
The move marks the second time TSA has modified its screener pay system. In September, the agency made major changes to the system, citing employee feedback as the primary force behind improvements.
Mark Roth, general counsel for the American Federation of Government Employees, on Wednesday praised the changes to the PASS system, but added that the union remains wary of many parts of the system's structure.
A reduction in required training, for example, is not consistent with the statutory requirements the agency is supposed to meet, AFGE said, adding that TSA officers often cannot complete training requirements because of understaffing at airports.
Congress should take a more assertive role by insisting that the agency hire enough workers to get the job done, AFGE said, and compelling TSA management to ensure training requirements are completed.
AFGE added that TSA officers still cannot appeal an unfair PASS evaluation to an objective third party. The system also involves an arbitrary assessment of collateral duties by management regarding which officers receive certain duties, the union said, adding that taking on these extra duties often can raise an officer's final PASS rating.
"We can see the incremental movement toward a saner approach to the issue of employee compensation at TSA," said Bill Lyons, AFGE national organizer. "However, these baby steps serve only to tinker around the edges of the real problems within TSA."
Kelley said the ultimate solution to severe problems affecting the TSA workforce would be to extend to them collective bargaining rights and place them back on the General Schedule.
"There simply is no substitute for collective bargaining, which would provide employees with a truly meaningful voice, and a pay system employees can view with clarity and trust," she said.