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News Release

Monday, March 01, 2004
Contact: Edmund Byrnes
Tel: 202-606-2402

OPM Director James Testifies on the Need for a Modern Human Resources System for the Department of Homeland Security

Washington, D.C. - During testimony last week before the Senate Subcommittee on Oversight of Government Management, the Federal Workforce, and the District of Columbia Committee on Governmental Affairs, and the House Subcommittee on Civil Service and Agency Reorganization Committee on Government Reform, U.S. Office of Personnel Management Director Kay Coles James explained the importance of the Human Resources (HR) flexibilities given to the Department of Homeland Security.

"The proposed regulations for the DHS were published last week for employee and public comment," said James. "I believe that they represent an historic step in the evolution of the federal civil service, rewriting the laws and regulations that govern how the Department classifies, evaluates, compensates, and disciplines its employees, as well as how it deals with its labor unions. At the same time, as originally envisioned and as enacted in law, the regulations remain firmly and unequivocally grounded in, and bounded by, our civil service system's core principles and values: merit, equal employment opportunity, due process, veterans' preference, and protections against reprisal, discrimination, and other prohibited personnel practices."

James' prepared statement and comments after the hearing emphasized the efforts Secretary Ridge and she made to involve employees, efforts that extended far beyond the requirements of the law. Over the course of the last ten months, James and other OPM and DHS officials have met and talked to over 2,500 DHS employees and managers in town hall meetings and focus groups across the country. And they consulted with dozens of companies and experts to identify promising and successful models from the private sector, state and local government, and other federal agencies.

James also highlighted for the committees OPM's responsibility to create HR systems that are flexible and able to meet the imperatives of the Department's critical homeland security mission: defending our Nation against a ruthless and resourceful enemy, as well as protecting us from other threats to the security of our homeland. "Let us not lose sight of the reason for this new Department and its new human resources system - September 11, 2001. In order to achieve its vital missions, DHS must have the unfettered flexibility to move people and resources without delay; it must be able to get the right people in the right jobs at the right time, to give them the technology they need, and to hold them accountable for their performance. This is what the American people expect and demand, and I believe that the new system will do that…without compromising the fundamental rights of the Department's civil servants."

The proposed components for the DHS' HR system include:

- A pay-for-performance system in which high performance is expected and rewarded, to an extent not permitted under the General Schedule; that streamlines and modernizes job classifications and pay levels; and that takes into account both national and local rates paid by employers in the private sector in setting pay for the Department's key occupational groups.

- A labor relations system that permits the Department to act quickly in situations where flexibility and swift implementation are most critical to achieving its mission (for example, in the deployment of personnel or introduction of new technology); that provides for the swift and fair resolution of labor disputes by a newly established and independent DHS Labor Relations Board; and that preserves the right of employees and their unions to bargain collectively over important working conditions.

- A streamlined mechanism for handling major disciplinary actions and employee appeals that preserves full due process; that ensures independent, third-party review through the Merit Systems Protection Board for all but the most egregious of offenses (those go before an independent panel appointed by the Secretary); and that retains intact all existing employee protections against reprisal, retaliation, and other prohibited personnel practices

In closing, James reminded the committee members that there is "much more to accomplish." "The outstanding work done during the design phase of this project is behind us, but there is much more to be done. Last week's publication of proposed regulations officially began that process, with an opportunity for formal public comment and more collaboration with employee unions and other stakeholders. Some might say 'enough already,' but I strongly encourage and welcome more input; I view it as yet another chance to hear from those who have something to offer."

"Such openness and inclusion are absolutely essential to any large organizational transformation, and we believe DHS, with 180,000 employees, is among the largest ever undertaken," said James. "We want employees and unions to have a voice in this process, and while we may not be able to alleviate all of their anxieties nor satisfy their every request, their honest involvement has contributed significantly to its high quality and will help shape the final outcome. In so doing, we will realize the promise (and the historic opportunity) of the Homeland Security Act: a modern, contemporary HR system that helps the Department and its dedicated managers and employees achieve its most critical mission."

In response to their concerns about the potential erosion of employee rights, James reminded the members that the Homeland Security Act leaves these rights intact. "Merit principles, the bedrock of our civil service system, will remain intact. Veterans' preference will not be compromised or diluted. Whistleblowers will still protected. Those personnel practices that were prohibited before will still be prohibited. Employees will still be afforded full due process before an adverse action is taken against them, and they will still be free to join unions and bargain collectively. I believe that it is irresponsible to leave anyone, especially the employees of DHS, with the impression that these rights have somehow been taken away from them," said James. "Those rights are precious, and they still apply with full force and effect to the men and women of DHS. This is not an empty promise, either. The President and the Congress have charged the Director of OPM to keep it that way."

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OPM leads and serves the Federal Government in enterprise human resources management by delivering policies and services to achieve a trusted, effective civilian workforce. By Empowering Excellence in Government through Great People, we provide leadership and support to U.S. agencies on issues including human resources policy and oversight, background investigations, federal employee benefits, retirement services, guidance on labor-management relations, and programs to improve workforce performance. For more information, visit or follow OPM on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn.

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