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Personnel Chief Says 'Time Is Now' for Changes in the System

By Sgt. 1st Class Doug Sample
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, June 10, 2003 – The "time is here and now" to modernize Defense Department personnel practices with changes to the civil service system, said David S. C. Chu, undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, during a Pentagon briefing today.

In a step that will transform the way DoD does business, Chu said a bill before lawmakers would bring the civil service system into the 21st century and into place with modern business practices.

He said some measures in that bill will eliminate decades-old policies of guaranteed annual pay raises and General Schedule pay step increases. And the bill would also seek changes in the way government personnel are hired, fired and promoted.

"This is not a new set of developments," he observed, adding that the call for change comes from years and "decades of calls that we need to modernize these processes."

Chu, who is DoD's senior policy adviser for recruitment, career development, pay and benefits for all active duty military, Guard and Reserve personnel and roughly 700,000 DoD civilians, said two proposals are aimed at changing hiring practices and the pay schedule for federal employees.

He told reporters the federal government places too many restrictions in the hiring of new workers and that those restrictions need to be relaxed if the government is to compete with outside industry for new talent.

Chu said that the department cannot "compete in the modern marketplace for talent with the tools that we have." He cited, for example, what DoD goes through in recruiting.

"If you go to a college job fair ... and you tell them it's going to take three months before I give you an answer, that young man or young women is typically not going to wait for you," he said. "They're going to have to be awfully committed to your cause to sit it out that long.

"We have all sorts of restrictions of who we can hire, how we can hire. So we're asking in the proposed statute that we relax some of those restrictions," he added.

Chu said the current General Schedule pay system of automatic annual raises -- regardless of performance -- and rewards based on longevity is running backwards and "not meeting the marketplace standards," he said.

"The one thing that our own people in the surveys that the Office of Personnel Management conduct have criticized about our system is that the good performers are resentful in that they get the same reward as the person who is just sort of getting by," he said.

He said a system of pay bands would better reflect the system the Defense Department is seeking. Career fields would be assigned a salary range based on entry, journeyman and executive levels, he said. Managers and supervisors would then determine what salaries to offer based upon a budget.

"We're constrained not by the general schedule, which is the way we do it today," Chu noted, but the manager and supervisor is "constrained by the budget, which is the way we should operate the way the law of the land operates."

The top personnel chief also discussed the "controversial aspect" of pay banding: performance. "You create a pay pool with the money you would otherwise have for the so-called within grade increases", Chu said.

"Indeed, with an annual salary increase and the bonus pools, you have a great pool of money, and you allocate that disproportionately to your best performers. And the mechanics of how you do it can differ among various systems."

Another benefit of the pay band system is that managers can change a person's job duties and compensate them accordingly without going through the time- consuming process of "recompeting" the job, he added.

Chu pointed out that despite rumors, the department does not seek to end collective bargaining with unions. However, he said the Defense Department is moving to bargain with national unions on those issues that are "cross- cutting," issues that affect more than one local union.

There are 1,366 local unions in the Defense Department, he noted, "that is a recipe for long delays in taking needed steps," he said.

"It's more constructive to bargain at a national level. So this is not an end to collective bargaining. It is a change in how we conduct collective bargaining. We think it is a change that would be actually better for our people."

Chu also said the bill before Congress addresses the status of some 300,000 jobs that are now conducted by uniformed military personnel in the Pentagon.

"A number of slots now occupied by military personnel will probably be converted to civil service status -- in fact, quite a significant number," he said. "We have quite a bit of military doing things we don't absolutely have to have military people doing."

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