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Acquisition Field to Test Personnel Project

By Paul Stone
American Forces Press Service

Washington, April 27, 1998 – If you're a civilian working in the acquisition field, you may be in for some big changes.

A recently announced DoD plan will significantly alter personnel policies and procedures for those in the acquisition career field, as well as supporting staff members. As many as 40,000 employees in the military services and defense agencies could participate in the project, making it the largest personnel demonstration project in the federal government.

The project could begin as early as this fall and will run for five years.

Diane Disney, deputy assistant secretary of defense for civilian personnel policy, said the test program has the potential to change how managers and employees alike operate in the workplace, change how they view federal employment and -- ultimately -- improve both employee satisfaction and productivity.

"If you're an employee in the project you'll have an opportunity to have your contribution to the organization recognized through your pay," Disney said. "So you may not have to wait as long in grade for financial recognition."

Managers, she said, will be able to hire people more rapidly, will have increased options for rewarding employee performance and will be able to spend more time focusing on organizational goals and objectives.

The 1996 and 1998 defense authorization acts approved the project, which encourages DoD to improve the performance and efficiency of the acquisition workforce.

While the project contains a variety of changes to current personnel practices and policies, the three major changes are:

o Streamlined hiring procedures. Candidates applying for positions will be grouped into three categories. Normally only those in the highest category will be certified for hiring. Veterans' preference rules will still apply. Those hired will be placed into one of three types of positions: permanent appointments, modified term appointments or temporary appointments.

o Broadbanding. This groups the current 15 general schedule grades in three or four larger bands encompassing multiple grades. The program will convert employees from their existing grades and steps into the new system without loss of pay. Also, broadbanding groups similar occupations into one of three career paths: administrative support, technical management support, or business management and technical management professional.

o Contribution-based compensation and appraisal system. This promotes increased fairness and consistency in the appraisal process by focusing attention on tangible contributions and productivity. The system gives managers the flexibility to reward employees in a timely manner for their contributions to the organization. It also improves employee understanding of the factors related to career advancement.

In addition to these changes, employees will not automatically receive the annual pay increases. Instead, annual general pay increase funds will be pooled with money now used for within-grade step increases, performance awards and certain promotions. Funds in this pay pool will be distributed to employees yearly based on their contributions.

The annual pay-out can take the form of base pay increases, awards, or both. This change will emphasize contribution over longevity because the size of the pay-out to individuals will be tied directly to their contribution to the organization and mission, Disney said.

She said the demonstration project "gives us the opportunity to try to improve conditions within the acquisition community, and permits us to test concepts that we might want to apply for broader use."

She is enthusiastic about the flexibility managers gain under the project.

For example, modified term appointments will be for one to five-year periods and may be eligible for conversion to permanent positions under merit promotion procedures. Temporary positions will be for a defined period and are not renewable. Disney said this gives the manager "the ability to hire for special project work or programs that have a limited duration."

"It also could be very helpful for activities that are slated for reduction or closure, where recruitment and retention pose a problem" she said.

Even greater flexibility will exist with broadbanding and the contribution-based compensation and appraisal system.

The advantage of broadbanding for employees is that they will be able to move through a greatly enlarged pay scale without competitive actions if their managers deem it appropriate, Disney said.

Similarly, the contribution-based compensation and appraisal system allows employees to receive increased financial compensation if warranted by job performance.

The key to all these changes, Disney said, is that all participants -- employees and managers alike -- are connected to the success of the organization.

With the test project, however, a direct link is made between performance and compensation. Managers will be more fully and deeply involved in evaluating contributions to organizations than in the past, Disney said, and employees' compensation will be related directly to their overall contributions.

A public hearing on the project was held at Fort Belvoir, Va. on April 23. A second is planned for April 30 in El Segundo, Ca., and a third on May 5 at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.

More information on the project is also available via the Internet at: www.crfpst.wpafb.af.mil/demo.

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