On Monday the Department of Defense entered into talks with various labor unions, following Friday’s announcement that the DoD would postpone the transfer of roughly 1,200 information technology (IT) employees from 12 of the departments’ so-called “fourth estate” agencies and into the Defense Information Services Agency (DISA).

DISA’s workload would increase by nearly a billion dollars in 2020, and the agency announced plans to bill the other agencies more than $855 million next year as part of the greater Fourth Estate Network Optimization Initiative (4ENO). The largest customers would be the Defense Health Agency, the Defense Logistics Agency, the Defense Commissary Agency and the Defense Contract Management Agency (DCMA), and each would pay DISA more than $100 million next year for IT services.

“The objective is to move the fourth estate’s common use IT systems, personnel, functions, and program elements associated with the support of those systems and technologies into a single service provider architecture,” said Drew Jaehnig, who is leading the 4NEO effort for DISA, via a DISA statement.

“Reducing the number of networks offers an added benefit of providing more control and consistent cybersecurity standards, which strengthens the fourth estate’s overall cybersecurity posture,” added Laura Herbertson, deputy chief of the 4ENO project. “The consolidated network will also reduce redundant IT costs and provide equal or better services than the separate networks.”

According to the Pentagon the workforce changes could reduce duplication among the DoD’s IT infrastructure and result in a $170 million per year savings once completed.

Cost vs. Personnel

However, the move, which would have transferred the IT workers from support agencies that cover IT, procurement and human resources, was met by a protest by the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), the nation’s largest federal employee union. AFGE, which represents 300,000 federal workers, argued that the DoD failed to properly consult the union over the planned transfer of the IT workers – and in May filed an unfair labor practice (ULP) charge with the Federal Labor Relations Authority.

The complaint contended that the DoD failed to notify AFGE or seek the union’s input about its plans to transfer IT workers from DCMA to DISA. AFGE argued that under Title 5 of the U.S. Code, federal agencies are required to consult with labor unions over any proposal that would “substantively change employment conditions” – provided that those unions in fact represent a substantial number of agency employees, but are not the exclusive representative at that particular agency.

“The Department of Defense has clearly violated the law by failing to notify AFGE of this proposal and not allowing the union to provide our views and recommendations regarding these proposed changes and the impact they could have on the employees we represent,” said AFGE National President J. David Cox Sr. via a statement.

The DoD had first ordered the agencies to migrate data and applications to the milCloud 2.0 system in May 2018, and the employee transfers were part of that data migration.

Some at AFGE have argued that under the Pentagon’s plan those employees slated for transfer to DISA may not have any say in the matter. This could include those who have spent their careers at one agency and may not want to transfer, but may not be ready to retire. There are also those employees who left DISA to go to DCMA and now are being “shoved back.” AFGE has even suggested that the transfer plans could be in conflict with federal law governing transfer of employees across agencies.

According to the AFGE this isn’t the first time DoD has violated the union’s national consultation rights. AFGE currently has an unfair labor practice charge pending against DoD over the department’s alleged failure to notify the union over plans to consolidate medical employees currently working at individual DoD services and agencies into the newly created Defense Health Agency.

“The changes DoD is proposing would affect tens of thousands of employees, but the department has made no attempt to communicate with these workers or get their input into these plans,” said AFGE Defense Conference (DEFCON) Chair Don Hale. “Employees deserve a seat at the table when decisions are made that affect their jobs, and we will keep fighting to make sure that happens.”

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Peter Suciu is a freelance writer who covers business technology and cyber security. He currently lives in Michigan and can be reached at petersuciu@gmail.com.