WASHINGTON—In testimony before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, AFGE National President John Gage today warned that the new personnel system for the Department of Defense “will become the source of corruption, scandal and mismanagement and will deflect the agency from its important national security mission for years.”
Gage testified on behalf of the United Department of Defense Workers Coalition (UDWC), an umbrella organization created by 36 unions representing civilian defense workers to establish coordinated opposition to the proposed work rules for DoD, called the National Security Personnel System. In February the UDWC filed a lawsuit against DoD when the initial proposal was released to the public. Just last week the UDWC filed a subsequent lawsuit and amended its original lawsuit upon release of the final NSPS rules. AFGE won a major legal victory against similar personnel changes proposed for the Department of Homeland Security when federal District Court Judge Rosemary M. Collyer ruled that the DHS rules could not be implemented because of specific illegal provisions.
Gage said, “I cannot overstate the level of anger, alienation and outrage that the NSPS regulations have generated among DoD civilian workers, many of whom are veterans. Our members are loyal Americans who help to defend this country every day. They are astonished by the campaign of misinformation and deception conducted by DoD and OPM to put in place an agenda that is so in conflict with American values, the proper maintenance of a civil service system, and good management principles. DoD cleverly uses all the right words in an attempt to mislead the Congress, the press, and the public, but DoD workers know that the agency officials have abused their authority and breached the trust given to them by the Congress.”
Gage also discussed five “flashpoint” issues that have not been meaningfully corrected since the publication of the proposed rules earlier this year and “which are the most egregious examples where the draft regulations for NSPS deviated from both the law and the stated objectives” of DoD.
1. NSPS radically curtails collective bargaining. DoD has granted itself the authority to unilaterally override provisions in labor contracts and declare issues off limit for contract negotiations, all via the use of agency issuances.
2. NSPS ends the right to appeal labor-management disputes to an impartial third party by requiring that an internal board, appointed by the Secretary of Defense, reviews such issues. In violation of American legal principles, the internal labor relations board would suffer from an inherent conflict of interest that makes it incapable of rendering fair decisions.
3. NSPS establishes an unprecedented, and virtually impossible to meet, legal threshold for overturning or reducing disciplinary actions or penalties. The new standard that must be met in order to mitigate penalties, “totally unwarranted,” is a violation of American jurisprudence.
4. NSPS provides no safeguards to prevent a general lowering of pay for the civilian defense workforce. NSPS permits the lowering of entry level salaries and the withholding of annual raises for workers who are performing satisfactorily.
5. NSPS weakens veterans preference and completely eliminates seniority as factors considered during a reduction-in-force. Only “ratings of record” will be considered for retention purposes in the event of a RIF, establishing an ambiguous standard in terms of how many years of ratings will be considered and how employees will be evaluated when there are differences in tenure even for the period to be considered. Moreover, in many circumstances under the regulations, veterans will be prevented from competing against non-veterans with less seniority or even “retreating” to the jobs they previously held.
The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) is the largest federal employee union, representing 600,000 workers in the federal government and the government of the District of Columbia, including some 300,000 workers in the Department of Defense.