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Eye Opener: Big Victories for Federal Employees

By Ed O'Keefe

Observers credit Sens. Levin, McCain, and Reps. Skelton and Lynch -- among others -- for helping secure big changes for federal employees. (Photos by Post, Getty and Bloomberg News)

Eye Opener

Happy Thursday! Federal employees, their unions and sympathetic lawmakers won their long-sought repeal of the National Security Personnel System on Wednesday, much to the surprise of some who thought it might have at least one more year to go.

The repeal came as part of a compromise House and Senate members announced in their negotiations over the Defense Department authorization bill, yours truly writes in Thursday's Post. The Pentagon maintains more performance management and hiring flexibility than other federal agencies. Congress approved the system for Pentagon employees in 2003.

“By this action, the conferees have declared NSPS to be a failure. As long as NSPS was in place there was a danger that such flawed practices could be adopted throughout government," said Colleen M. Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union.

Kelley's union does not represent workers directly impacted by NSPS, but does represent workers impacted by other big changes: Members of the Civil Service Retirement System will be able to work part-time toward the end of their career without jeopardizing their pensions. Members of the Federal Employees Retirement System, workers will have sick leave credited to them when they retire. Agencies will also be able to hire back federal retirees under certain conditions and these workers will be able to receive a new salary while keeping their pension.

"These provisions would ensure justice for hundreds of thousands of public servants," said Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.), whose Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee handles federal employee issues.

"This was a very good day for the federal workforce," said Randy Erwin, legislative director for the National Federation of Federal Employees. His union was most pleased with the changes for federal retirees.

Though members of the House and Senate both want an end to NSPS, members of the House seemed most committed to its repeal in conference negotiations, according to Congressional sources.

The unions credited Sens. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Rep. Ike Skelton (D-Mo.), who led the negotiations and also called out Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii) and Reps. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Edolphus Towns (D-N.Y.). Stephen F. Lynch (D-Mass.) earned special praise for not only agreeing to the repeal but also convincing skeptical colleagues.

"It was Steve [Lynch] in the conference who really pushed that these be included," said Rep. James Moran (D-Va.), referring to the changes to FERS. "I really owe him and federal employees do too." The Northern Virginia lawmaker has long fought for changes to FERS, but had no role in the conference negotiations.

"I really can't say enough about Sketlon, Levin and McCain," said AFGE President John Gage. "They really courageously stood up this time and repealed a terrible idea."

"I will be grateful when all those federal employees who have been putting off retirement in anticipation of this legislation passing can finally start planning for their lives beyond working for the federal government," said NFFE National President William R. Dougan.

If the Defense authorization bill passes as expected, the Pentagon must halt NSPS by the start of 2012. As for what happens then, stay tuned.

Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

Cabinet and Staff News: Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announces plans to save the wild horses. FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski promises more net neutrality rules. The LA Times profiles Richard Holbrooke.

Army Officers Criticize Rebuke of Gen. McChrystal: A number of senior Army officers compared Gen. Stanley McChrystal to Gen. Eric K. Shinseki, the Army chief of staff who warned before the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 that it would take several hundred thousand troops to secure the country -- advice that was dismissed as "wildly off the mark."

Former Drug Agent Pleads Not Guilty to Drug Charges: Richard P. Cramer, 56, who served with Immigration and Customs Enforcement on the Arizona border and in Guadalajara, Mexico, pleaded not guilty to drug trafficking charges that included accusations that he gave intelligence to Mexican cartel members.

EPA to Review Health Effects of Corn Herbicide: U.S. corn farmers have come to rely on the herbicide to control weeds in their fields.

FHA May be Setting Up Repeat of Housing Bubble: This year alone the agency has backed nearly 2 million mortgages worth at least $328 billion. It insured 21.5 percent of all new mortgages last year, up from fewer than 6 percent in 2007.

FEMA: ACORN Story 'Inaccurate': The agency dismisses a Washington Times report that nearly $1 million in federal funds slated for Louisiana firefighters was awarded to the controversial group after Congress moved to block funds to it.

Senate Presses Census on 2010 Preparations: Director Robert Groves says one thing keeping him up late at night is concern about just how many Americans will fill out their forms, and get them back in the mail as soon as possible.

Controllers: FAA's Computers Prone to Problems: The agency tried unsuccessfully to deploy a new computer system last weekend at a regional air traffic control center in Salt Lake City.

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By Ed O'Keefe  | October 8, 2009; 6:00 AM ET
Categories:  Congress, Eye Opener, Workplace Issues  
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"Agencies will also be able to hire back federal retirees under certain conditions and these workers will be able to receive a new salary while keeping their pension."

Sounds like a good deal, before leaving I pick someone to promote to my position and in exchange that person brings me back a month or two later.

Posted by: PowerBoater69 | October 8, 2009 7:05 AM | Report abuse

I believe that the entire congress should be replaced, when I see the lack of work federal employees perform and then this. this is the time for change in this country

Posted by: paulb6 | October 8, 2009 7:48 AM | Report abuse

It would be nice to have seen a counter-opinion in the article. Not all Federal employees wanted to see NSPS removed, myself among them. For those of us who believed in and were rewarded under a pay-for-performance system, short-lived as it was, this is not a good day.

The problems with NSPS were not with NSPS, but rather because the system tried to make NSPS work as some sort of GS-system spin-off, still tied to the GS rules while operating separately.

I'm glad the unions are happy; too bad the rest of us were let down.

Posted by: Marken | October 8, 2009 9:06 AM | Report abuse

This is a very good day for Government Service Employees! I volunteer to be the first to be unscrewed (I mean unspiralled). NSPS has taught me to have faith in Congress and the Senate. It has also clearly shown me the need for Federal Unions and I see a real need for all GS Grades to be able to join the unions; not just up to GS-11. We must remmeber that DOD did not do this on their own accord. DOD had to be forced by Congress and the Senate to correct this big mess. The public will watch as DoD misuses their new hiring authoritites and ultimately congress and the senate have to repeal that authorization too. It is a shame that DoD could not do the right thing throughout this entire fiasco, but I'm thankful for NSPS because it has shown me exactly what DoD's attitude is toward the dedicated Government Service employee.

Posted by: RDangredo | October 8, 2009 9:18 AM | Report abuse

This is a new level of double-dipping which, unfortunately, limits other people from gaining employment.

Posted by: milh | October 8, 2009 11:15 AM | Report abuse

The Democratic party sleeps with the unions so this should be no surprise. Instead of fixing it and making it beeter for ALL (not just the unions) we throw out all the work that many employees have put into this.

When the unions start taking responsibility for actions, then they should be at the table. All they do is say "no" to anything that doesn't greae their pockets. What a waste.

Posted by: terencekahn | October 8, 2009 11:36 AM | Report abuse

LOL! NSPS sucks cause its pay for making the papaer work pretty (especially format-wise) and not for performance. I think some of the commentators on here are ideological and not pragmatic.

Posted by: you-dont | October 8, 2009 12:44 PM | Report abuse

A good day for federal workers? While the retirement changes are welcome news, the death of NSPS casts a shadow on the whole day. Let's just kill a system that actually does link pay to performance and allows all employees to be fairly compensated just so a few marginal performers can continue to get salary increases for just occupying space.

NSPS isn't transparent? How about the "good old days" when the managers locked themselves in a room and emerged hours later with a list of names and dollar amounts? I'm not sure about anyone else, but I can assure you that I and my co-workers had absolutely no idea what criteria were used to make those determinations.

It is well known that the average NSPS salary increases have higher than the general schedule increases, even after allowing for within grade increases. I suppose the unions are more interested in protecting the marginal few than benefiting the many true professionals in government service.

Hey buddy, that's your union taking care of you.

Posted by: as-if | October 8, 2009 11:33 PM | Report abuse

Hey Paulb6, when I was hunkering down in in Iraq and Afghanistan or traveling virtually alone in Pakistan I wish you were with me. Then you could tell me how little I do to earn the moderate paycheck I receive.

Posted by: CaptBuck | October 9, 2009 11:11 AM | Report abuse

Hey CaptBuck, Don't know if you were drafted, but last I checked the armed forces is voluntary? I have worked in the Federal Service for almost 20 years and NSPS may not be perfect, but it is better than the guy next to me (ususally who I TRAINED) producing -0- while I work my tail off for the same or lower wage. As for the little you do earn, is that a gripe about your retirement or your Federal Salary? Inquiring minds...

Posted by: RADHUTCH | October 13, 2009 10:09 AM | Report abuse

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