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DoD Eyeing New Personnel System

By Maj. Donna Miles, USAR
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, June 18, 1998 – The Defense Department is taking a hard look at the civilian personnel system and hopes to usher in the year 2000 with new, more flexible rules that reward performance and improve productivity.

In the face of downsizing and restructuring expected to continue for at least five more years, the department is considering an unusual personnel system for its 790,000 civilian employees, who make up about 40 percent of the U.S. Civil Service.

Diane Disney, deputy assistant secretary of defense for civilian personnel policy, said the 1997 Quadrennial Defense Review, DoD's blueprint for the military of the future, pointed out shortcomings in the existing civil service system. It's more rigid than it needs to be, she said, but efforts to change that are under way.

DoD's labor-management partnership council, made up of representatives of the services as well as the general counsel's office, national labor unions and Office of Personnel Management, is evaluating a wide range of personnel programs. The members are looking at staffing, pay and classification, performance management, benefits and entitlements, and work-force shaping.

Council members have a blank slate. "Basically, we're starting from scratch," Disney told the Armed Forces Radio and Television Service. "We asked, for example, what we could do to improve staffing, what we could do in terms of pay and classification that would enable us to benefit the individual employee and make life better all around for managers and the department."

Pay banding is one concept the group is considering. In a demonstration expected to begin this fall, some 35,000 to 40,000 members of DoD's civilian acquisition work force will put the concept to the test. Instead of remaining in their 15 current general schedule pay levels, they'll be assigned to four broad bands.

The goal, project deputy director Dick Childress said, is to make climbing the pay ladder easier for standout performers. "When you get into a broad band, you can go all the way to the top level without having to get a promotion," he said. "So, essentially, if you come in at a GS-5, you can go all the way up to being a GS-11 under this system without ever having to be promoted -- just by working hard and making a strong contribution."

Disney said another concept under consideration is "cafeteria options" -- mix-and-match provisions and benefits employees can select based on their individual circumstances and preferences. She called this plan one of the council's long-term initiatives, but said it could ultimately make the personnel system more responsive to workers' needs.

Disney stressed the council has no intention of eliminating benefits of DoD's civil service employees, who, like most other government workers, are governed by Title 5 of the U.S. Code. She said the council specifically decided not to focus on issues that don't need fixing or that are too sensitive to consider at the moment -- such as hiring and firing protections, benefits, veterans preference and unemployment compensation.

She said revamping the personnel system is in everyone's best interests and will reward the hardest workers with better pay and more training. She said managers should gain more flexibility and the tools to improve productivity. It will put DoD in a better position to react to change.

Officials say efforts by DoD, the government's largest single employer of civilian workers, are likely to set a pattern for the entire civil service.

DoD intends to submit plans for the new system as part of the fiscal 2000 legislative package, Disney said. If Congress approves, she said, DoD will have "a wonderful opportunity to open the new millennium ready to meet the challenges of the next century."

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