Human Capital:

DOD's National Security Personnel System Faces Implementation Challenges

GAO-05-730: Published: Jul 14, 2005. Publicly Released: Jul 14, 2005.

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The Department of Defense's (DOD) new personnel system--the National Security Personnel System (NSPS)--will have far-reaching implications not just for DOD, but for civil service reform across the federal government. The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2004 gave DOD significant authorities to redesign the rules, regulations, and processes that govern the way that more than 700,000 defense civilian employees are hired, compensated, promoted, and disciplined. In addition, NSPS could serve as a model for governmentwide transformation in human capital management. However, if not properly designed and effectively implemented, it could severely impede progress toward a more performance- and results-based system for the federal government as a whole. This report (1) describes DOD's process to design its new personnel management system, (2) analyzes the extent to which DOD's process reflects key practices for successful transformations, and (3) identifies the most significant challenges DOD faces in implementing NSPS.

DOD's current process to design its new personnel management system consists of four stages: (1) development of design options, (2) assessment of design options, (3) issuance of proposed regulations, and (4) a statutory public comment period, a meet and confer period with employee representatives, and a congressional notification period. DOD's initial design process was unrealistic and inappropriate. However, after a strategic reassessment, DOD adjusted its approach to reflect a more cautious and deliberative process that involved more stakeholders. DOD's NSPS design process generally reflects four of six selected key practices for successful organizational transformations. First, DOD and OPM have developed a process to design the new personnel system that is supported by top leadership in both organizations. Second, from the outset, a set of guiding principles and key performance parameters have guided the NSPS design process. Third, DOD has a dedicated team in place to design and implement NSPS and manage the transformation process. Fourth, DOD has established a timeline, albeit ambitious, and implementation goals. The design process, however, is lacking in two other practices. First, DOD developed and implemented a written communication strategy document, but the strategy is not comprehensive. It does not identify all key internal stakeholders and their concerns, and does not tailor key messages to specific stakeholder groups. Failure to adequately consider a wide variety of people and cultural issues can lead to unsuccessful transformations. Second, while the process has involved employees through town hall meetings and other mechanisms, it has not included employee representatives on the working groups that drafted the design options. It should be noted that 10 federal labor unions have filed suit alleging that DOD failed to abide by the statutory requirements to include employee representatives in the development of DOD's new labor relations system authorized as part of NSPS. A successful transformation must provide for meaningful involvement by employees and their representatives to gain their input into and understanding of the changes that will occur. DOD will face multiple implementation challenges. For example, in addition to the challenges of continuing to involve employees and other stakeholders and providing adequate resources to implement the system, DOD faces the challenges of ensuring an effective, ongoing two-way communication strategy and evaluating the new system. In recent testimony, GAO stated that DOD's communication strategy must include the active and visible involvement of a number of key players, including the Secretary of Defense, for successful implementation of the system. Moreover, DOD must ensure sustained and committed leadership after the system is fully implemented and the NSPS Senior Executive and the Program Executive Office transition out of existence. To provide sustained leadership attention to a range of business transformation initiatives, like NSPS, GAO recently recommended the creation of a chief management official at DOD.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: To improve the comprehensiveness of the NSPS communication strategy, the Secretary of Defense should direct the NSPS Senior Executive and NSPS Program Executive Office to identify all internal stakeholders and their concerns.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The National Security Personnel System (NSPS) Program Executive Office (PEO) met the intent of our recommendation by identifying stakeholders in its evaluation plan as well as in its communication plans.

    Recommendation: To improve the comprehensiveness of the NSPS communication strategy, the Secretary of Defense should direct the NSPS Senior Executive and NSPS Program Executive Office to tailor and customize key messages to be delivered to groups of employees to meet their divergent interests and information needs.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The National Security Personnel System (NSPS) Program Executive Office (PEO)developed a communication plan. In addition, the NSPS website uses different means of communicating to employees including fact sheets and other online resources that provides information to targeted groups of employees, such as supervisors and nonsupervisors.

    Recommendation: To evaluate the impact of DOD's new personnel management system, the Secretary of Defense should direct the NSPS Senior Executive and NSPS Program Executive Office to develop procedures for evaluating NSPS that contain results-oriented performance measures and reporting requirements. These evaluation procedures could be broadly modeled on the evaluation requirements of the OPM demonstration projects.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The National Security Personnel System (NSPS) Program Executive Office (PEO) developed an evaluation plan that describes the approach, types of data, and general timeframes that the PEO will use to evaluate and report on NSPS during its development and delivery, to ascertain if it meets the departmental goals and identify aspects for improvement or modifications. Evaluation data will come from a variety of sources including, but not limited to, attitude surveys, automated systems, special studies, focus groups, implementation lessons learned, and baseline data.

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