By Capt George Tobias, Air Force Space Command Public Affairs
/ Published December 21, 2010
PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- When the Fiscal Year 2010 National Defense Authorization Act was released in October of last year, it spelt the end of the National Security Personnel System and the start of converting NSPS positions into General Schedule positions.
What this meant for Air Force Space Command is the command had to convert over 3,000 NSPS positions in a rapid amount of time.
The deadline for the conversion was set by Congress to be completed by Jan. 1, 2012; however the Department of Defense set a deadline of Sept. 30, 2010.
The transition was conducted in four phases, two in July, one in August and one in September. The primary factor used to determine which phase installations transitioned in was their readiness to convert measured in part by the availability of GS reach back position descriptions.
The Air Force Manpower Agency was responsible for converting NSPS position descriptions to General Schedule and they used one of four processes to do that. The first and easiest was to simply go to the old GS PD that was used for the position prior to NSPS and swap it out. The second option involved using a standard core position description from a central library that matched the duties being performed. The third option was to classify a newly written GS PD if neither of the first two options applied. The last option was to take the NSPS PD and the employee's performance objectives and use them to determine an approximate GS classification. The last option flagged the position for future review. AFMA's primary objective was to meet the conversion deadline of September which they did. However, not all conversion actions resulted in accurate matches of grades and duties performed.
Where the process stands
The majority of the Air Force and AFSPC employees transitioned in Phase IV Sept. 12.
For most employees the transition was seamless, however, for some it was not so smooth.
Mismatches of grades and duties resulted from errors or inaccurate or incomplete data used for the conversion. Errors were simply mistakes in applying classification standards and when fixed, would be retroactive and not affect the employee's work history.
Other problems are being addressed through management-initiated position reviews. This process essentially asks AFMA to review their work as the duties aren't accurately described in the PD used for conversion. Position reviews take a bit more time but are being worked according to priorities set by management. A significant number of errors have already been corrected and AFMA is starting work on position review requests. Mangers and the personnel community are working closely with AFMA leadership in setting priorities and monitoring progress.
According to guidance released Dec. 10, Air Force A1 has requested major command personnel offices to "advise leadership and supervisors that other (Air Force) directed classification actions may take precedence over encumbered position reviews. The conversion out of NSPS came on the heels of the RMD 802 contractor-to-civilian conversion process and created a significant surge in AFMA's workload. Because of that, the length of time required to complete a position review is dependent on: classification workload ..., complexity of the action, completeness of the data provided and a finite number of classification specialists available to work all actions."
The differences in NSPS, which was designed to be a more flexible system, and GS, which is more structured, has led to much of the challenges faced by CPOs.
"Now we have to put the cat back into the bag," said John King, Personnel and Programs Division Chief for AFSPC/A1K, describing the difficulty of transitioning NSPS positions in to GS positions.
"The rapid transition resulted in errors that may have been prevented had more time been given to accurately transition employees," said Siobhan Berry, Human Resources Specialist for AFSPC/A1.
The major challenges in correcting the problems that have occurred because of the conversion are manpower and competing Air Force priorities at AFMA and AFPC. Both offices are struggling to meet the surging workload while continuing to complete their normal work. They are doing the best they can to get it done, according to Ms. Berry
What can leadership and employees do
AFSPC/A1 offers some tips for supervisors of employees who are affected by the transition.
"Supervisors should notify their servicing Civilian Personnel Office of any outstanding NSPS transition problems immediately and their intent to submit a position review for any encumbered position," said Ms. Berry.
"Supervisors need to have position review packages ready to submit to the servicing CPO as soon as they are contacted," Ms. Berry continued. "Whenever possible, use a standardized core personnel document from AFMA's SCPD library. This speeds up the classification process. If one is available for the position and it is not used, AFSPC/A1M must concur."
Those affected by the transition are encouraged to remain patient as the errors and position reviews are being worked.
"Please be patient and allow the process to work," urged Ms. Berry. "We understand the importance and urgency in resolving these issues as soon as possible and the need to keep impacted parties informed."
Employees are also reminded that continuous inquiries on the status of actions actually slows the process down and keeps AFMA and AFPC from working on the actions while they check on status updates.
"When updates are made, the employee's chain of command with be notified so they can keep employees informed," said Ms. Berry.
Missed opportunities and a light at the end of the tunnel
For some, the conversion from NSPS to GS has been a source of frustration.
Tamara Wright, a graphic artist for AFSPC Public Affairs, was originally in the GS system and transitioned into NSPS. While she was in NSPS, she was promoted, however when she was transitioned back into the GS system she slid back into her old GS grade, which she views as a demotion.
She worries she will miss opportunities to compete for future jobs which she is qualified for but lacks an adequate GS grade to be competitive.
"I feel like I can't do anything until it gets fixed," Ms. Wright said.
For Jeremiah Lewis, 21st Contracting Squadron, who was hired in NSPS, the errors in conversion took about a month to be resolved.
"It took a little while and it was a bit nerve racking," said Mr. Lewis describing what he felt during the process to correct the errors in his conversion to GS.
Before the conversion he was projected to be a GS-13, but after the conversion his records reflect him to be a GS-9.
"I was confused at first," said Mr. Louis. "I did not understand the ramifications of this."
He immediately contacted his supervisor of the error, and his supervisor immediately contacted their servicing CPO.
"I left it with my leadership and they pretty much handled (the error)," said Mr. Louis, who added he hopes everyone who was affected by the transition who has their problems resolved quickly.
In every career field there are cases where civilians are affected by the conversion, even the personnelists who are working the transition. Clint Clouse, a human resource specialist for AFSPC CPO, has also been personally affected when his position was converted to a GS-12. His responsibilities and job performance in the NSPS system was the equivalent to a GS-13.
This type of error in the system, until it is fixed, makes career progression for civilians difficult when their GS rank has moved lower than what their rank was in NSPS and they want to advance their career; however, "positions are being fixed and errors are being reviewed," said Mr. Clouse.
"I have faith in the system," said Mr. Clouse. "I also have faith in the people who are over the system; because I know they will do the right thing."