Feb. 10, 2005 – In a move that severely disrupts the currentemployment system governing the three-quarters of a million civilians working for the US Department of Defense, the Pentagon will institute new personnel rules loosely resembling those introduced by the Department of Homeland Security last month.
Union leaders, who were informed in advance of the new arrangementâ€™s basics, say the new measures, together called the National Security Personnel System (NSPS), will make raises harder to obtain and punitive actions by management harder to overturn.
Moreover, say union officials, the rules will severely restrict workersâ€™ collective bargaining ability and undermine the job security once counted on by career Pentagon civil service personnel.
John Gage, president of the American Federation of Government Employees, said the proposed system would not only harm workers, but would "jeopardize public safety and national security." Speaking to the crowd at a demonstration against the rules held in Washington on Tuesday, Gage charged that NSPS would "[take] away employee protections that allow workers to speak freely when they see wrongdoing or mismanagement."
At the same event, AFL-CIO president John Sweeney called the changes "a massive overhaul" and "a wholesale attack on DoD workersâ€™ ability to get their job done."
"NSPS means that the DoD will soon get the opportunity to treat their employees as if they were second-class citizens," Gage added. "NSPS will put the squeeze on employees by enabling the agency to mess around with pay, work schedules, leave and evaluations without any meaningful appeals rights."
Gage also said the new rules offer the Pentagon "every means to put the squeeze on employees, enabling the agency to mess around with pay, work schedules, leave and evaluations, without any meaningful appeal rights."
According to the Washington Post, the Pentagon is defending the process through which it arrived at the new rules by pointing out that it consulted DoD employees through "town hall meetings" and an interactive website, as well as by holding meetings with union officials.
However, it appears workers were given no actual power in the consultation process. According to a union organizer who attended one such meeting held last August, the events constituted little more than of a "focus group" process. "It is clear that this is just window dressing for the DoD to say to Congress that they got input from employees," wrote Mark Matsumoto, of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1186 in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, in a review of the meeting.
Since September 11, the Bush administration has argued that government employees in national security roles such as DHS and DoD personnel should not be able to strike, and that their managers should have more control over workplace concerns, such as career advancement and pay raises, in order to maintain the smooth operation of the countryâ€™s defenses. But critics have suggested such moves are merely intended to weaken laborâ€™s overall leverage in the marketplace and introduce the cutthroat ways of the private sector into civil service fields.
Unions that represent DoD employees say they intend to file a suit to block the changes, but since in 2003 Congress granted Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld the power to alter the rules as needed for "national security," the new system is expected to go through.
Once the NSPS rules are officially published, employees and the public will have 60 days to comment before the Pentagon finalizes the system. If plans are not interrupted by effective protest, the DoD intends to begin implementing the new rules in July.