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Union Leaders Make Pay-for-Performance Reform Major Priority

Alyssa Rosenberg | Government Executive

September 07, 2009

After wrapping up their national conventions in August, leaders of some of the largest federal employee unions prepared to aggressively pursue a broad set of legislative priorities when Congress returns on Tuesday. They also said their members are looking for clarity about what kind of reforms to the pay and personnel systems the Obama administration might pursue.

One of the first issues on the horizon is the fate of the Defense Department’s National Security Personnel System. A panel appointed by the administration to examine the alternative pay system recommended in late August that NSPS be substantially reformed. But the House and Senate versions of the 2010 Defense authorization bill contain slightly different provisions that would repeal NSPS within a year unless the Defense secretary makes a case to retain the program.

Matt Biggs, legislative director for the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers, said his members felt that repealing NSPS was a necessary first step if the administration wants to pursue broader personnel reform.

“Our delegates at the convention, even the ones who are not federal employees, [believe] the whole intention of NSPS was to bust unions and dismantle the federal civil service,” he said. “They gave us our marching orders…. Anything they want to do, if it’s any way related to NSPS, it’s going to be toxic, it’s not going to have employee buy-in.”

Beth Moten, legislative director for the American Federation of Government Employees, said the union’s members would be contacting legislators to let them know the NSPS repeal was a priority for them. That provision is only one of a number of issues that lawmakers will have to resolve when they meet in a conference committee to produce a final version of the bill.

But Moten described AFGE members’ objections to NSPS as a stand-alone issue, rather as a gateway issue to clear the way for broader pay and personnel reform.

“Generally speaking, they’re very supportive of the General Schedule,” she said. “They would like to see more funding for the GS, including funding for bonuses for people who are superstars. They are eager to see the GS used the way it was designed.”

According to National Treasury Employees Union President Colleen Kelley, her members have been receptive to calls for reform on a number of fronts, including the hiring process, and they reacted positively to Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry’s remarks at NTEU’s convention.

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