The Trump administration’s proposal to create a Space Force as a new armed service within the Air Force would involve establishment of a “space civilian personnel system” separate from standard personnel rules for federal employees because DoD would treat the new agency an intelligence agency, according to an analysis by the Congressional Research Service.
It said that would add to the number of alternative civilian personnel systems already operating inside DoD, including a cyber excepted service, a system covering acquisition employees and one covering intelligence personnel. The proposed system would be most like the latter, the report added, with several special provisions: management could move employees from the excepted service to the competitive service if certain conditions are satisfied; pay rates “would be set using DoD or labor market rates as needed to recruit and retain personnel” and pay caps would be higher; and employees may not have the same bargaining rights as other DoD civilians in general.
On the latter point, the CRS noted that “if large numbers of current space support employees with collective bargaining rights serve outside the intelligence community, the Air Force would likely reappoint them from a personnel system with collective bargaining rights into one without them by broadly applying what is an otherwise narrow practice,” it said.
“If current space support employees are less like the intelligence workforce, where bargaining units are uncommon, and more like the general workforce in DoD, where they are common, SCPS might face challenges reappointing current space support employees into future SCPS employees,” it said, saying that allowing transferred employees to keep existing bargaining rights could reduce opposition on those grounds.
The report did not estimate how many civilians would be in such an agency. A separate recent CBO report projected that it would absorb some 23,000 positions both civilian and military in DoD now involved with the issues the new agency would take over, and that thousands more would be added—with how many more depending on how the agency would be structured.
While there are several long-running alternative personnel systems at DoD, the last major effort to create another—the national security personnel system—proved highly controversial and operated only for several years before being repealed early in the Obama administration.