Pentagon urged to scrap alternative pay plan for Army Futures Command lab

WASHINGTON — A federal union is urging the Pentagon to kill a proposed demonstration project with a single pay system and hiring rules to fill key civilian positions at the U.S. Army Futures Command Science and Technology Reinvention Laboratory.

The American Federation of Government Employees, which represents more than 700,000 federal workers, including a quarter million in the Department of Defense, has provided feedback on plans to create a personnel management system specific to the agency with decentralized authority.

“Throughout the advisory, sketchy boilerplate logic is provided that the apparent intent of improving management flexibilities is “to attract, motivate, train and retain a scientific workforce , technological and high-performance modernization,” AFGE National President Everett Kelley said in a report. “Unfortunately, no behavioral science or management study is cited to support this boilerplate.”

The Pentagon said in its proposal that the demonstration project is designed to give it an advantage in recruiting in-demand skilled labor for the AFC, one of America’s newest command structures. army. A DoD spokesperson did not immediately return an email requesting comment.

The demonstration project would include salary bands, performance-based pay, flexible hiring and a “modern approach to career progression and assignments,” according to the department.

Demos that use pay bands have been relatively successful in the past, said Steve Lenkart, executive director of the National Federation of Federal Employees.

“Usually it’s higher than the GS scale, so people want to do it,” he said. “And it gives hiring managers the flexibility, so it’s not that rigid.”

Demonstrations can cause problems, Lenkart said, if employees feel they are competing within a pay band with others who have less experience or expertise but are paid the same. same way.

Some other STRLs, including 21 in the DoD, have adopted additional salary flexibilities based on the OPM Special Pay Rate Tables that provide higher salaries than the General Schedule tables. This additional compensation flexibility allows STRLs to independently set additional compensation rates based on market conditions.

“Competing with private sector compensation is particularly difficult, especially in emerging mission areas such as hypersonics, autonomy, cybersecurity, and data science,” according to a May DoD advisory.

How does the proposed system differ from the GS calendar?

Occupations with similar characteristics would be grouped into one of three career paths with salary ranges designed to facilitate salary progression. Inspired by the GS scale, each career path will be divided into three to five salary bands, each covering the same salary range now covered by one or more GS grades.

The pay-for-performance system uses annual payouts based on the employee’s total performance score rather than within-grade increases, quality step increments, and performance awards. Additionally, each pay band will have its own salary cap, just like grades do in the GS system.

“Measuring and anchoring individuals in a performance measurement system every time they make a mistake, or evaluating them based on a ‘bell curve’, is the best way to destroy morale and reduce productivity. , enthusiasm, creativity and collaboration,” Kelley said.

The proposal also stated that competitive service positions would be filled through merit-based staffing, direct hiring authority, delegated review, or other non-competitive hiring authorities.

Such a personnel management system is necessary, according to the Pentagon, because STRL oversees organizations whose workforces differ in mission and have capabilities that require a more personalized approach to compensation, promotion and hiring.

STRL components are also geographically dispersed in areas where competition for talent is fierce.

The GS won’t cut it because it’s too rigid in its job descriptions and promotions, and too slow to react to changes in the job itself, which in STEM fields often moves quickly, according to the DoD.

“Modern employees expect careers that include frequent company changes, new challenges, and fluctuations in work-life balance that don’t require staying with one employer,” the proposal states.

AFGE’s Kelley said the demonstration proposal “provides conclusive justification without supporting analysis, contains inconsistent rationale, and in some cases exceeds legal authority.”

Wage bands are not the only solution to attracting top talent in highly skilled professions, and the GS is already addressing the problems these alternative plans are designed to solve, the union said.

“There is a lot of untapped talent and capacity in our country that we are not fully tapping into because we write people off by measuring performance rather than leading them to excellence and success,” he said. he declares.

Molly Weisner is a reporter for the Federal Times, where she covers government labor, policy and contracts. She made previous stops at USA Today and McClatchy as a digital producer, and worked at The New York Times as an editor. Molly majored in journalism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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