Civilian Personnel: Out with the old, out with the new

Which evokes more controversy: The U.S. strategy for Afghanistan or civilian personnel issues within the Defense Department? That latter, we think.

Flash! There is lunchtime stampede-stopping news on the civilian personnel front: Lawmakers have killed the highly controversial National Security Personnel System. Tucked in as a part of the Defense Authorization bill, Congress has decreed that DoD must end the unpopular pay-for-performance system by the beginning of 2012. Roughly 30 percent of DoD civilian employees fall under this system.

NSPS, which has been around since just 2003, was intended to modernize the 50-year-old civil service system. The newer system would allow DoD to better retain, compensate, reward, and manage employees. But how, remains a mystery. It is unclear what advantage NSPS had over the General Schedule, other than volumes of complex regulations. (Bonfire!) 

We asked managers for NSPS and those now under the Defense Civilian Intelligence Personnel System. (DCIPS is the highly controversial program for intelligence personnel discussed here not long ago.)  One person was frustrated with the system and is glad to see it go, though he confessed he was never really sure what it did – and still isn’t. “It’s downfall came upon implementation. It was never adequately explained. It is extremely complex and has not accomplished what was intended – to inspire better performance from civilian workers for better pay. It was never going to happen,” he said. He went on to say he hopes DCIPS will take the same action soon.

According to Robert Tobias, director of the Institute for the Study of Public Policy Implementation at American University., The Defense Department has three choices “They can decide to roll everybody back [off NSPS], they can create something new and seek new legislation to get it passed, or they could work with [the Office of Personnel Management] and John Berry, who’s interested in creating something government-wide.”

A government-wide standard makes sense, if any metric is really needed. But it’s 2009. Clearly this is not a core competency of the Department of Defense.

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