Conversion from the National Security Personnel System to Other Pay Schedules: Issues for Congress
Publication Date: August 2010
Publisher(s): Library of Congress. Congressional Research Service
Author(s): Wendy R. Ginsberg
Most federal employees (59.1%) are paid on the General Schedule (GS), a pay scale that consists of 15 pay grades in which an employee's pay increases are to be based on performance and length of service. Some Members of Congress, citizens, and public administration scholars have argued that federal employee pay advancement should be more closely linked to job performance than it currently is on the GS. With these concerns in mind and with explicit congressional authorization, the Department of Defense (DOD) began developing the National Security Personnel System (NSPS) in 2003 as a unique pay scale attempting to more closely link employee pay to job performance. NSPS was beset by criticisms since it went into effect in 2006. The system faced legal and political challenges from unions and employees who claimed it was inconsistently applied and caused undeserved pay inequities, among other concerns. On October 7, 2009, House and Senate conferees reported a version of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2010 that included language to terminate NSPS. On October 8, 2009, the House agreed to the conference report. The Senate agreed to the conference report on October 22, 2009. On October 28, 2009, the President signed the bill into law (P.L. 111-84). DOD must now return employees currently enrolled in NSPS to the GS or to the pay system that previously applied to them or their position. If the employee's position did not exist prior to NSPS or if the previous pay scale was abolished during NSPS's lifetime, DOD must determine an appropriate pay scale for the employee. The return to the GS or other pay system must be completed by January 1, 2012, pursuant to the law. NSPS was initially intended to cover all DOD employees, but had a total final enrollment of roughly 227,000 DOD employees or 31.7% of the department's 717,000-person workforce. DOD has announced that it anticipates that approximately 75% of employees in NSPS will be placed in the GS by September 30, 2010. The remaining 25% of employees--most of whom would be placed in pay scales other than the GS--may take longer to transition out of NSPS. P.L. 111-84 included language preventing any employee from suffering a loss or decrease in pay as a result of the elimination of NSPS. Pursuant to statute, some transitioning employees have been placed on "retained pay," which allows them to maintain their NSPS rate of pay instead of transitioning to the GS pay rate assigned to their job's grade. In such cases, the GS rate of pay assigned to the employee's position may not reach the pay level the employee achieved under NSPS. Retained pay, pursuant to statute, requires that an employee receive half of the annual pay adjustment given to employees who are at the maximum payable rate for their GS grade (step 10). Some NSPS employees may argue that the cap on their annual pay increase amounts to a loss in pay, and, therefore, violates P.L. 111-84. This report focuses on the transition of employees from NSPS to non-NSPS pay systems. It does not address the operation of NSPS or other pay schedules. The report discusses how the transition is scheduled to occur and analyzes congressional options for oversight or legislative action.