The opposition was not unexpected. Ten unions filed a lawsuit in February to block parts of the regulation that would roll back union power to bargain over workplace issues.
But the coalition's objection, filed in the closing hours of the official, public comment period on the proposed rule, also sets the stage for the next round in the National Security Personnel System process -- "meet and confer" sessions in which Pentagon officials and employee representatives will try to narrow their disagreements over the proposed regulation.
The outcome of those sessions, which will take at least a month to complete, could help shape employee perceptions of the planned NSPS, which would jettison the 15-grade General Schedule in favor of a performance-based system that would give Pentagon managers more discretion in setting pay raises.
Defense unions have mounted an aggressive campaign against the NSPS, including demonstrations at some military bases and appeals to union members to speak out against the proposed regulation.
Yesterday, Mark Roth, general counsel of the American Federation of Government Employees, contended the public comment period had become "tainted." At a dozen military bases, he said, union locals were prohibited by base commanders or managers from holding meetings, putting up posters and circulating literature aimed at ensuring that employees knew that they could file comments in opposition to the proposed regulation.
"They tainted the comment period and made it ineffective for us," Roth said. "We were not fully able to utilize the 30-day comment period because they obstructed us." The Pentagon, he said, "may not have gotten a full range of comment because it was visible that they had taken the unions on, and it may have had a chilling effect."
Pentagon officials, however, noted that there are more than 1,500 bargaining units in the department and suggested that the AFGE complaint involved isolated incidents. As of yesterday, officials estimated they had received more than 35,000 comments on the regulation.
"These kinds of matters are generally handled through local labor agreements and past practices . . . where management considers union activities in light of day-to-day mission requirements," Brad Bunn, deputy program executive officer for the NSPS, said. "Generally the feedback we've gotten is that unions and management at our installations have worked together cooperatively to accommodate the union's desire to communicate its message to its members while ensuring that the mission gets done."
The 36 unions in the coalition -- which includes AFGE, the Metal Trades Department of the AFL-CIO, the Association of Civilian Technicians and the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers -- represent 50 to 60 percent of the Defense Department's civilian workforce.
In its comment paper, the coalition said it hoped the upcoming collaboration "will be a success." But a number of the coalition's suggestions, such as holding negotiations over pay, were previously rebuffed by the Bush administration when it created a new pay and personnel system for the Department of Homeland Security.
The coalition said both sides "have a mutual interest" in improving the handling of discipline and employee appeals of their punishment, but claimed the Pentagon is seeking to weaken union and employee rights.
The coalition repeatedly claims that the proposed regulation lacks examples or evidence that the NSPS would enhance efficiency or improve national security. The unions predicted that the new system will be "complex and costly" and will create "a new bureaucracy."
The American Association for Budget and Program Analysis will hold its spring forum April 13, featuring Douglas Holtz-Eakin, director of the Congressional Budget Office, as a keynote speaker and a panel discussion on "Budgeting in Baghdad."
The forum's overall theme is "Budget and Performance -- An 'Xtreme' Sport." For more information, call Chris Lawson at 703-941-4300 or go to www.aabpa.org.
Coalition to oppose private accounts
By MARK DAVIS The Kansas City Star
State and local leaders from 13 political, labor and advocacy groups in Missouri have formed a coalition to oppose President Bush's call for private Social Security accounts.
The new group, Missourians United to Protect Social Security, also released a report from the Institute for America's Future that criticized private Social Security accounts and their potential impact on Missourians.
Nathan Riding of the Missouri Progressive Vote Coalition said the report showed that Missourians currently collect $9.9 billion a year in Social Security retirement, disability and survivor benefits. The amount would fall by $4.4 billion under a private-accounts plan described by the president's 2001 commission on Social Security, according to the report.
“I will not stand by and let my benefits be cut,” said Lindsey Walker, local director of Rock the Vote and a political organizer for the Missouri Progressive Vote Coalition.
Walker, 23, acknowledges that Social Security payroll taxes are expected to fall short of providing promised benefits before she reaches retirement age. But they will still cover about 80 percent of promised benefits, according to projections by the Congressional Budget Office.
The Social Security Administration's projections show that payroll taxes will pay 73 percent of promised benefits starting in 2042.
Walker, however, rejected the president's claim that the situation demands an overhaul of Social Security. Shortfalls can be made up without dramatic changes, she said.
Walker suggested extending the payroll tax to all earned income, rather than limiting it to the first $90,000 earned each year.
“I pay Social Security (taxes) on every penny I make,” she said. “I don't understand why a wealthier individual is exempt from that.”
Several Social Security reform proposals include changes to the payroll tax cap among measures to close the shortfall. Some plans also incorporate private accounts.
Bush has said he will not rule out raising the payroll tax cap but has not advocated changing it. He has said he will not accept a higher payroll tax rate to cover Social Security's expected shortfall.
Many Democrats have said they will not accept private accounts as part of the discussion of Social Security reform.
In addition to the Missouri Progressive Vote Coalition and Rock the Vote, other groups in the Missouri coalition are the Alliance for Retired Americans; the American Association of University Women; the American Federation of Government Employees; the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now; People First; the Greater Kansas City Women's Political Caucus; Greens of Kansas City; the University of Missouri-Kansas City Young Democrats; Service Employees International Union Local 1; Democracy for America; and Kansas City Young Democrats.
Fears, Support Expressed In Hearings Regarding New Personnel Reforms
March 16, 2005
The Government Accountability Office announced general support many of the principles underlying the Department of Defense’s proposed National Security Personnel System, but also expressed concerns about the agency's lack of communication to employees about how it plans to implement the system.
Testifying before the Subcommittee on Oversight of Government Management, the Federal Workforce, and the District of Columbia, Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, GAO Comptroller General David M. Walker said his agency has three primary areas of concerns:
- The proposed regulations do not define the details of the system's implementation, including such issues as adequate safeguards to help ensure fairness and guard against abuse;
- The proposed regulations do not require, as GAO believes they should, the use of core competencies to communicate to employees what is expected of them on the job;
- And, the proposed regulations do not identify a process for the continuing involvement of employees in the planning, development, and implementation of NSPS.
Going forward, GAO believes that:
1. The development of the position of Deputy Secretary of Defense for Management, who would act as DoD's Chief Management Officer, is essential to elevate, integrate, and institutionalize responsibility for the success of DoD's overall business transformation efforts, including its new human resources management system.
2. DoD would benefit if it develops a comprehensive communications strategy that provides for ongoing, meaningful two-way communication that creates shared expectations among employees, employee representatives, and stakeholders.
3. DoD must ensure that it has the institutional infrastructure in place to make effective use of its new authorities before they are operationalized.
Walker said GAO agreed that many of the principles underlying the reforms are consistent with proven approaches to strategic human capital management, such as a flexible and contemporary human resources management system that utilizes pay bands and pay for performance. Walker also said the regulations give DoD the power to "rightsize its workforce when implementing reduction-in-force orders by giving greater priority to employee performance in its retention decisions."
"GAO strongly supports the concept of modernizing federal human capital policies, including providing reasonable flexibility. There is general recognition that the federal government needs a framework to guide human capital reform. Such a framework would consist of a set of values, principles, processes, and safeguards that would provide consistency across the federal government but be adaptable to agencies' diverse missions, cultures, and workforces," Walker testified.
Also testifying were several key officials in relation to the implementation of the new personnel system, including Charles S. Abell, principal deputy under secretary of defense personnel and readiness, who praised the reforms.
"The existing systems were designed for a different time. The world has changed, jobs have changed, missions have changed – and our HR systems need to change as well to support this new environment. NSPS allows DoD to establish a more flexible civilian personnel management system that is consistent with its overall human capital management strategy. NSPS will make the Department a more competitive and progressive employer at a time when the country's national security demands a highly responsive civilian workforce," Abell said.
Similar sentiments were echoed by George Nesterczuk, the Office of Personnel Management's senior policy advisor on the Department of Defense.
"We believe the regulations we have jointly proposed strike that balance in all of the key components of the NSPS: performance-based pay, staffing flexibility, employee accountability and due process, and labor-management relations. In each case we struck a careful and critical balance between operational imperatives and employee interests, without compromising either mission or merit."
However, others were not so supportive and expressed a number of concerns.
John Gage, president AFGE, and Gregory Junemann, president International Federation Of Professional and Technical Engineers, were very critical of the regulations and in what they said was disregard for stakeholder rights.
"As you know, Public Law 108-136 protects the right of employees to organize, bargain collectively, and to participate through labor organizations of their own choosing in decisions that affect them. Specifically, the Coalition has reiterated that Congress intended to have the NSPS preserve the protections of Title 5, Chapter 71, which DoD's proposals attempt to eliminate. DoD's position, made manifest in its proposed regulations, is that Chapter 71 rights interfere with the operation of the new human resources management system it envisions and hopes to implement.
"Our unions have expressed strong objections to DoD's total abandonment of Chapter 71, along with the law associated with the statute’s interpretation," they said in a joint statement.
Perhaps Richard Oppedisano, national secretary of the Federal Managers Association, summarized some of the concerns best when he stated that the success of the new system may hinge on proper training.
"Two key components to the successful implementation of NSPS and any other major personnel system reforms across the federal government will be the proper development and funding for training of managers and employees, as well as overall funding of the new system. As any federal employee knows, the first item to get cut when budgets are tightened is training.
"A manager or supervisor cannot effectively assign duties to an employee, track, review and rate performance, and then designate compensation for that employee without proper training. As a corollary, if there is not a proper training system in place and budgets that allow for adequate training, the system is doomed for failure from the start," Oppedisano warned.
No drop in migrant flow or deaths
Multimillion-dollar border effort had little impact, analysis shows
Mar. 16, 2005 09:15 AM
A year ago today, federal officials kicked off a multimillion-dollar campaign to gain "operational control" of Arizona's border and dramatically decrease the number of migrants crossing, and dying, in the desert.
Border Patrol Chief Gus de la Vina said the extra money and manpower gave the government "an excellent shot" at closing down the border completely.
Hundreds of sensors were buried underground. Thousands of Mexicans were flown deep into Mexico at U.S. expense. Two unmanned aerial vehicles scanned the desert.
And migrants are still crossing and dying in record numbers.
Supporters of the Arizona Border Control Initiative, including U.S. Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., and former Undersecretary for the Department of Homeland Security Asa Hutchinson, who helped design the effort, point to an increase in the number of illegal immigrants apprehended in Tucson sector in fiscal year 2004 as a measure of the program's success.
An analysis by the Tucson Citizen shows that nearly half a million people were apprehended in the year that ended Sept. 30, 2004 - 41 percent more than the previous year.
But the Border Control Initiative appears to have had little to do with the increase. Nearly as many more illegal immigrants were caught in the six months before the initiative as in the six months after.
From October through the first half of March in fiscal year 2004, Border Patrol apprehended 40 percent more than they did during the same period a year earlier.
During the six months after the initiative began, 42 percent more were apprehended than the same period a year earlier.
"I don't think you could label the ABC a success," said U.S. Rep. Jim Kolbe, R-Ariz., who supported the idea but criticizes the implementation. "It certainly has not reduced by any measurable amount that anybody can determine the number of illegal immigrants coming across the border."
* * *
One recent morning above the mountains south of Arivaca, a Border Patrol helicopter tracks tire marks on the desert sand. They disappear into a wash shaded by mesquite trees almost thick enough to cover four beat up vans.
The helicopter lands. Co-pilot Leo Turner jumps out and runs into the wash.
"Come out!" Turner yells in strongly accented Spanish. "Come out!"
* * *
Arizona Border Control Initiative is the largest effort to control illegal immigrants through Arizona since the state became the most popular crossing point in the late 1990s. For the first time last year, Arizona accounted for more than 50 percent of all apprehensions along the southern border, more than California and New Mexico combined.
The initiative included 260 more agents, 28 Humvees and two new helicopters, as well as a pilot drone program and $1 million in underground sensors. The initial six months was budgeted to cost $10 million, but eventually cost $28 million, $13 million of which went to voluntary repatriation flights to Mexico during the summer.
"The cornerstone of our strategy is deterrence," said Michael Nicley, newly appointed chief of the Tucson sector, which covers the eastern two-thirds of the Arizona-Mexico border. "People won't continue to come if they know that there's a great chance they're going to get arrested."
In the early '90s, Nicley helped plan and implement Operation Gatekeeper, which successfully clamped down on the border around San Diego. He saw deterrence worked there and thinks the latest initiative can eventually make it work in Arizona.
Apprehensions will initially go up, as they did in San Diego, but will fall as migrants get the message, he said.
Tucson sector apprehensions won't tell the whole story, said Jeff Passell, a demographer with the Pew Hispanic Center. "You have to look at the situation across the entire border."
For the last two decades, Border Patrol has caught on average a little more than 1 million migrants a year along the entire 1,951-mile border with Mexico. Whenever Border Patrol has clamped down on one area, the flow "bubbles" to another, Passell said.
When Operation Gatekeeper successfully clamped down in San Diego, traffic bubbled in Arizona.
This year, the bubble seems to have at least partially surfaced in Yuma. Agents there have reported a flood of migrant traffic since the start of the Arizona initiative, which didn't cover the 118 miles of border they patrol. Apprehensions went up 70 percent in the Yuma sector last year, to 97,872. Migrant deaths more than doubled, from 12 to 31.
Agents on the ground are "being overrun," said T.J. Bonner, longtime Border Patrol agent and president of the Border Patrol union. "We're working our tails off, but the problem is much greater than the resources we have."
Bonner criticizes the initiative's focus on costly projects such as the repatriation flights and aerial drones instead of hiring more agents or investing in proven technology, such as manned helicopters.
During one 39-day test period last summer, the $4 million Israeli-made Hermes drones led to the apprehension of 248 people.
"You could go out there with a nine iron and golf balls and hit more migrants on the head than that," said the Rev. Robin Hoover, head of Humane Borders, a group that puts water in the desert for migrants. Hoover said the latest crackdown has had little impact on stemming migrant flow or saving lives.
* * *
Men, women and at least 10 children, the youngest 8 months old, pour out of the vans and sit down.
It's a big group, 78 people total.
Saul Dominguez, 34, came with his sister-in-law and two nieces, ages 6 and 7. They came with 11 others from the same village near Puebla in central Mexico.
There's no work there, Dominguez said. The group is heading to New York, where they have friends.
* * *
During the summer, it looked as if migrant deaths had gone down. But it turned out Border Patrol had broken from previous protocol and excluded skeletal remains in their count. By the end of the year, a record 172 people had died trying to cross the border in Arizona. In 2003, 151 died.
Chief Nicley said the initiative has had an impact.
Fewer people are dying of heat exhaustion in the deadly west desert area around the Tohono O'odham Nation, where Border Patrol focused efforts last summer. Crime and abandoned-vehicle seizures, both indicators of migrant traffic, are down on the reservation as well, he said.
The strategy of the agency is not "to push people around," he said. It's to gain control of area after area until migrants have no place left to go, he explained.
But critics doubt law enforcement alone will work. "It must be coupled with comprehensive immigration reform," said Kolbe, who has introduced one of three guest worker bills under consideration.
Passell estimates there are about 10 million illegal immigrants in the country. That number has grown by about half a million people each year, regardless of border strategies, he said. The number spiked during the late '90s, but that seemed more tied to the economy, he said. A stronger economy here meant more jobs and more migrants.
"The surveys we've done essentially show that everyone who wants to get in, gets in," he said. It may take them two, three or four times, but they eventually make it.
* * *
Dominguez shakes his head. It's the fourth time he's tried to cross in the last two months. This time they walked for three days until they got to the pickup point at the wash.
"I feel bad," he said, and shrugged his shoulders. "But what can we do? Today we tried here. Tomorrow we'll try somewhere else. We'll try until we get through."
Senator says Pentagon executive pay decisions erode confidence
By David McGlinchey
A senior Democratic senator sharply criticized Pentagon officials Tuesday for their compensation policies and said that Defense Department civilian employees have little reason to believe that the new National Security Personnel System will be any more even-handed.
Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., asked Defense officials why they gave 2.5 percent pay raises to political appointees in 2005, but only a 2 percent increase to members of the Senior Executive Service. Levin said the Pentagon action directly conflicts with a congressional mandate to ensure equity for pay adjustments in the political and career employee pools.
"Why does that engender confidence?" Levin asked during a hearing of the Senate Governmental Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight of Government Management, the Federal Workforce and the District of Columbia. "Why is that legal?"
Charles Abell, principal deputy undersecretary of Defense for personnel and readiness, told the subcommittee that Pentagon lawyers had reviewed the differing pay raises and declared them legal.
"I'm not a lawyer. I don't practice law," Abell said. "I leave that for the general counsel."
But David Walker, comptroller general of the Government Accountability Office, said that meeting "minimum standards" and approving technically legal pay decisions is not the correct approach, especially with a new pay system on the way.
"You don't want to do just what is arguably legal," Walker said. "You want to do what is right."
Pentagon officials have released proposed regulations for NSPS, which would scrap the General Schedule system, implement performance pay, reduce union bargaining powers and streamline the employee appeals process. On Tuesday, several senators said NSPS will fail if Defense employees do not believe that they are being integrated into a fair and transparent system.
"You are proposing a system that is based on an important premise," Levin said. "You are not following that premise right now."