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National Security Personnel System Task Review Group Opening Remarks

Public Session: June 25-26, 2009

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SOURCE: Center for American Progress

Rudy deLeon is the Senior Vice President of National Security and International Policy at American Progress.

Welcome to today’s task group meeting on the Department of Defense National Security Personnel System.

Today, the Department of Defense employs more than 700,000 civilians. These career civilians play an essential role in meeting the national security mission of the Department of Defense to provide for the common defense. With the military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, and other demanding deployments on U.S. military personnel, the department’s mission has become more complex. The role of DoD’s civilian workforce now includes more significant participation in combat support and readiness functions that allow military personnel to focus on war fighting duties.

The men and women who support our national security, active duty, reserve, national guard, and career civilians, serve with determination, professionalism, and reflect great credit on the country they service. Every American is grateful for their service.

At this critical time, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has included in the Department’s fiscal 2010 budget request, authority to hire an additional 13,000 new civilian personnel this coming year and up to 30,000 civil servants over the next five years.

In 2003, Congress enacted the National Security Personnel System. The aim of the NSPS was to establish a more flexible, mission-based personnel management system that is linked to DoD goals. The 2003 legislation included a series of provisions on labor management that were reversed by Congress in 2008, but nevertheless served to greatly damage the strong sense of “partnership” and commitment that had been established between labor and management in the 1990s.

NSPS has been deployed in spirals and for the earliest of the spirals, three rounds of payout have now been made under NSPS. Reactions have been vigorous. Supporters of the new system extol the flexibility of the system, the performance-based criteria, and the effect of the system on overall performance. Critics have argued that the system lacks transparency, fairness, and oversight. In all cases, the opinions have been very strong, rooted in personal perspective and experience, and offered with sincerity and conviction.

Following a number of concerns raised by the Congress and the U.S. Government Accountability Office in March 2009, the deputy secretary of defense placed a moratorium on NSPS conversion and created a task group of the Defense Business Board to review the NSPS. This group, which includes my colleagues Mr. Michael Bayer and Mr. Robert Tobias, has been tasked to answer a number of questions about NSPS—its design and implementation—and to make recommendations to the Department of Defense on policy going forward. Among the many questions we are looking into, we have three for specific focus:

  • First, do the underlying design principles and methodology for implementation reflect the program objectives?
  • Second, are the program objectives being met?
  • And third, is NSPS operating in a fair, transparent, and effective manner?

Today, we are here to meet with experts who will share their views on NSPS. Many of these experts have spoken previously before Congress and have agreed to appear again today to present their positions and to answer questions for the panel. The presenters include Mr. Brad Bunn, the program executive officer for NSPS; Brenda Farrell of the Government Accountability Office; Mr. John Crum of the Merit Systems Protection Board; Mr. John Gage, the president of the American Federation of Government Employees; Richard Brown of the National Federation of Federal Employees; and Mr. Darryl Perkinson of the Federal Managers Association.

Tomorrow, the task group will convene an additional session with those interested in presenting public comment. The session will hear from invited speakers drawn from the comments and information we received since announcing the effort. As of Monday, the task group has received more than 550 comments from supervisors, organizations, members of the work force, and others with exceptional and insightful comments. Most were from individuals with experience in the NSPS system, and we selected speakers for tomorrow who could speak from that experience. The comments raised a wide range of issues to be considered and we appreciate the energy and thoughtfulness of all of the comments. That session will convene here starting at 9 a.m. tomorrow.

These public sessions are the third round in a series of meetings we have convened to research and investigate NSPS. The task group has conducted two interview sessions with representatives and stakeholders in the NSPS. On June 12, we met with the representatives of the 36 member unions of the United DoD Works Coalition. We discussed a variety of issues, including the performance management system, reassignments and promotions, pay pools, and issues of equity.

On June 19, the task group met with key Department of Defense stakeholders, including representatives from the three branches of the military, the intelligence community, and the Office of the Secretary of Defense. We solicited their views on the system, its effects on performance and productivity, and the benefits and problems with NSPS.

I would like to thank those who attended the interviews for their participation and candid remarks. The meetings helped us better understand the views on NSPS, which will be very important as we continue the review. We’d also like to express our appreciation for those who have given comments and came forward to get all the facts on the table, even when some of those facts are critical of the current policy.

The task group will make a presentation with preliminary recommendations to the Defense Business Board on July 16, 2009.

Rudy deLeon is the Senior Vice President of National Security and International Policy at American Progress.

To speak with our experts on this topic, please contact:

Print: Katie Peters (economy, education, poverty, Half in Ten Education Fund)
202.741.6285 or kpeters@americanprogress.org

Print: Anne Shoup (foreign policy and national security, energy, LGBT issues, health care, gun-violence prevention)
202.481.7146 or ashoup@americanprogress.org

Print: Crystal Patterson (immigration)
202.478.6350 or cpatterson@americanprogress.org

Print: Madeline Meth (women's issues, Legal Progress, higher education)
202.741.6277 or mmeth@americanprogress.org

Spanish-language and ethnic media: Tanya Arditi
202.741.6258 or tarditi@americanprogress.org

TV: Lindsay Hamilton
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Radio: Chelsea Kiene
202.478.5328 or ckiene@americanprogress.org