Homeland Security’s Personnel Rules Overhaul
The departure of Tom Ridge as secretary of the Department of Homeland Security will not slow plans to overhaul rules for how thousands of Homeland Security employees are paid, promoted and disciplined, a top official said yesterday.
The overhaul of the department’s personnel system, which will affect about 110,000 workers, will be one of the most far-reaching changes in civil service rules since government-wide reforms enacted in 1978 and will probably serve as a model for other agencies seeking more flexible ways to hire, pay and discipline employees. The changes at Homeland Security almost certainly will be taken into account at the Pentagon, which is planning a shake-up of its own civil service rules.
The Homeland Security rules — which will be phased in over many months, if not years — will move most department employees out of the General Schedule, the government’s white-collar pay system, and into one that gives more weight to occupation, location and job performance. The rules also will likely weaken the clout of unions in the department.
The federal government is fast moving away from the longstanding General Schedule, with at least nine different civil service pay systems currently in place. Most employees working for Congress, including the GAO, are already on a banded pay system rather than the 15-rung GS ladder. DoD already abolished their six-rung Senior Executive Service, shifting to a single SES band, as of 1 January 2004.
The current civil service system has an inordinate number of problems, although most of them are inherit in a huge, bureucratic structure and unlikely to be remedied. There is a down side, of course, in giving managers increased authority over compensation packages and minimizing the clout of the unions: the potential for abuse is greatly increased.
There are also special problems in the case of DoD, in that GS rates come with rank equivalencies to the uniformed services that are useful from a personnel management standpoint. If there are only four or five pay bands, compared to ten officer pay grades, the equivalencies will be much fuzzier. Presumably, that will be taken into consideration in planning the transition.