9 Questions Each Lawmaker Must Answer

House and Senate lawmakers will meet the week of June 29 to resolve differences between their two chambers’ versions of the FY16 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), H.R. 1735. In completing the conference report for the bill, those lawmakers will have to answer nine important questions for the Department of Defense’s (DoD) civilian workforce:

Question 1: Should DoD complete its New Beginnings Performance Management system before making drastic changes to personnel policy?

What we say: AFGE strongly opposes the Senate version’s punitive provisions dealing with performance of civilian employees:  section 1101, which would extend the current one year probationary period to two years; section 1102, which would delay a step increase for an employee who had undergone a performance improvement period; and section 1103, which would increase the weight of performance over veterans preference and length of service when determining retention of employees during a RIF.  Until DoD’s performance management system is overhauled, it is premature to use the current flawed performance management system to determine pay raises and RIF retention.  In addition, extension of a probationary period only creates an at-will workforce, instead of fostering a culture in which supervisors communicate with their employees about their performance, ensure they receive adequate training and feedback, and take steps to correct poor performance when it occurs.

Instead the conferees should substitute the House version’s section 906, which expresses the sense of Congress that DoD should continue its efforts to institute a performance management and appraisal system for employees, named ‘‘New Beginnings,’’ as required by section 1113 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2010 (Public Law 111–84). It would also express the Sense of Congress that the Secretary of Defense should proceed with the collaborative work with employee representatives on the new system and implement it at the earliest possible date.  The FY16 NDAA must strike Senate Sections 1101, 1102, and 1103, and retain House Section 906. 

Question 2: Should DoD force civilian personnel whose work require lengthy travels to personally pay for official travel?

What we say: In November 2014, DOD cut the per diem allowance for employees traveling 31 to 180 days to 75% of the current per diem rate, and further reduced the per diem allowance to only 55% of allowable expenses for travel longer than 180 days.  These cuts to DOD employees’ per diem allowance for lodging, meals and incidental expenses is a misguided and misplaced attempt at meeting the goal to reduce DOD travel expenditures.  The current reduced flat rate per diem allowance will inevitably lead to DOD employees who travel for long periods of time having to personally pay for expenses directly related to official travel, cutting into employees’ personal finances. 

Question 3: Should the cap on service contract spending be extended?

What we say: In FY12, Congress imposed a cap on service contract spending because the Department had imposed a cap on the size of the civilian workforce.  Otherwise, it was feared that work would simply shift from a capped civilian workforce to otherwise uncapped service contractors.  Any savings from reductions in the civilian workforce would be lost if their work is simply shifted to contractors who are almost always more expensive.  Worse, if only civilians are capped, DoD would actually be incentivized to use contractors instead of civilians.  If civilians are to be disadvantaged, then, so, too, should contractors.  The House NDAA includes an extension of the cap on service contract spending (Section 863).  Senator Cardin was prevented from offering his amendment (SA 1690) which would have included identical language in the Senate’s NDAA.  The FY16 NDAA conference report must include House Section 863. 

Question 4: Should civilian personnel have opportunities to perform new work?

What we say: Because of the cap on the size of the civilian workforce, civilian employees are denied opportunities to perform new work, even when they are the most cost-efficient workforce.  DoD policy requires managers to use their own cost comparison methodology to determine which workforce—military, civilian, or contractor—should perform new work in those instances in which cost is the sole basis for making such decisions.  However, the Congress’ own investigators report that DoD does not actually use its methodology.  When defense dollars are precious, it makes no sense to deny civilian personnel opportunities to perform new work when they are the most cost-efficient.  The House NDAA includes a requirement that DoD actually use its cost comparison methodology when cost is the sole criterion (Section 321).  Senator Brown was prevented from offering his amendment (SA 1965) which would have included identical language in the Senate’s NDAA.  The FY16 NDAA conference report must include House Section 321. 

Question 5: Should shifts of non-military essential work from civilians-to-military reduce costs and promote readiness?

What we say: DoD is taking non-military essential work from civilian personnel and giving it to military personnel.  The Congress’ own investigators recently reported that these shifts of work waste money and prevent warfighters from being trained.  DoD has policies to require consideration of costs and readiness in such situations.  However, Congressional investigators report that such guidance is always ignored.  When defense dollars are precious and force structure is being reduced, it makes no sense to shift non-military essential work from civilians to military without any consideration of costs and readiness.  The House NDAA includes a requirement (Section 907) that before conversions of non-military essential work can occur, DoD must establish a professional link between military personnel and the work they would take from civilian personnel and conduct a cost comparison to determine that military personnel are cheaper than civilian personnel.  Senators Casey and Murkowski were prevented from offering their amendment (SA 1967) to include very similar language in the Senate’s NDAA.  The FY16 NDAA conference report must include House Section 907. 

Question 6: Should Congress ensure that we maintain a secure and ready source for maintenance and overhaul of core weapons in accordance with longstanding law?

What we say: The House (Sec. 804) and the Senate (Sec. 863) included provisions that essentially declare that once an item is determined to be a commercial item anywhere in DoD, then it will be considered a commercial item for all subsequent purchases.  As passed by the Senate, this guts the core statute, which has an exemption for commercial items, but bases it on a much tighter definition of commercial items.  AFGE supported a provision in Section 804, which includes very specific language which exempts the core statute from the change in law and guarantees that depot core law, which exempts only certain narrowly defined commercial items from core, is kept intact and not gutted by a change in the general definition and handling of commercial items.  The FY16 NDAA conference report must include House Section 804, particularly 804(c).

Question 7: Should DoD guarantee that depots and arsenals can have access to government funded design plans that allow them to work on weapons systems?

What we say: Both the House (Sec. 835) and the Senate (Sec. 825) include provisions requiring an intellectual property study on how DoD will have access and utilize data rights to weapons systems, which can have a tremendous impact on the future viability of the organic industrial base.  The House-passed version includes a requirement that the study include the input of the end user at the organic depots and arsenals.  AFGE believes it is important for their voice to be heard.  The Senate version does not require input at the local level.  The FY16 NDAA conference report should include House Section 835.

Question 8: Should DoD include a sustainment strategy to comply with bringing work “in-house” in the acquisition strategy since 70% of the cost of a weapon system is in sustainment?

What we say: The Senate (Sec. 841) and the House (Sec. 822) each included a provision requiring an acquisition strategy for each major defense acquisition program.  AFGE supported the House provision, which included a section on maintenance, logistics and sustainment to comply with the core and 50/50 laws, which requires work to be completed in government depots by government employees.  The Senate did not include this provision.  The FY16 NDAA conference report must include House Section 822.

Question 9: Should Congress promote policies that strengthen the organic industrial base and secure employment for government employees?

What we say: AFGE supported several key industrial policy issues that passed the House that  must be included in the FY16 NDAA conference report:  a prohibition on the furlough of working capital fund employees (House Sec. 1421); a requirement for DoD to review items purchased overseas for purposes of bringing that workload to the organic arsenals and depots for completion (House Sec. 325); and an exemption for working capital fund employees from headquarters cuts unless those cuts comply with Title 10 2472, which prohibits the use of any metric other than funded workload for the management of depot employees (House Sec. 905 (f)). 

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