Defense Department orders review of pay-for-performance system

A local labor official said Thursday he is “ecstatic” with a Defense Department decision to delay further implementation of the National Security Personnel System pending review of the new controversial pay-for-performance civilian personnel system.

Tom Scott, president of the American Federation of Government Employees Local 987, said he is pleased the department is “starting to listen to AFGE.” Local 987 is the bargaining unit for most civilian workers at Robins Air Force Base.

A news release announcing the move said Deputy Secretary of Defense William Lynn made the decision after consulting with the Office of Personnel Management.

“This administration is committed to operating fair, transparent and effective personnel systems,” Lynn said in the release. “We are undertaking this review to assess whether NSPS meets those objectives.”

About 2,400 Robins workers — essentially white-collar, non-bargaining unit supervisors and professionals — currently fall under the new structure. Base spokesman John Birdsong said the delay would have no local impact since additional NSPS conversions were not planned in the near term.

“We will continue as we have been,” Birdsong said. “That is, employees under NSPS will remain under NSPS. Once additional guidance from the Defense Department is received, we will take any actions required.”

The remaining civilians at Robins — about 9,000 workers — fall under either the General Schedule or blue-collar, wage-grade systems.

How long and in what manner NSPS might be affected is unclear.

“It is expected to take several months for a review team to gather the necessary information and data, reach out to stakeholders and develop recommendations for leadership consideration,” according to the release. The move is not surprising since during the run-up to last year’s elections, President Obama promised to revise or consider a complete repeal of NSPS.

NSPS has ushered in a host of changes for workers. Instead of the 15 pay levels — each with 10 steps — under GS, NSPS offers three broad pay bands in each work category.

The GS system features pay increases through cost-of-living raises or promotions based on longevity. With NSPS, supervisors are required to develop performance objectives linked to organizational goals, then decide how workers meet those goals using a rating scale of one to five. Those that exceed the objectives are candidates for pay raises, bonuses and promotion.

Unions, led by AFGE, have opposed NSPS from the outset, claiming the promotion process is discriminatory, hurts longer-term pay and retirement by using bonuses rather than salary increases to reward good performance and restricts collective bargaining particularly at the local level.

Largely because of union opposition, only 205,000 of some 700,000 Defense Department civilians fall under NSPS. The 2008 Defense Authorization Act specifically excluded blue collar workers.

Scott said NSPS is not based on performance.

“It’s a good ol’ boy system that favors upper-echelon managers who gain the largest share of rewards,” he said. “What is left trickles down to lower-level worker bees who get minimal pay increases.”

The local union chief said the AIG scandal is the private sector version of NSPS.

“CEOs get huge bonuses while lower, hard-working employees get 2 or 4 percent increases,” Scott said.

In a recent interview following the first NSPS employee rating cycle, Mary Larralde said NSPS had wide acceptance at Robins. Larralde is the base civilian personnel director.

“It’s a new system,” she noted, “but as far as I can tell, things seem to be moving in a positive direction.”

To contact Gene Rector, call 923-3109, extension 239.