A seaman works at Personnel Support Detachment Balboa, Calif., in 2010. Many sailors complain that too many civilians now working at PSDs lack empathy and a basic understanding of how to handle service record changes. (Navy)
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It’s something nearly everyone has a horror story about — long waits, hang-ups, poor service while trying to work with a personnel support detachment office to get their service record or move or travel claim processed.
The problems are so widespread that many sailors believe they can’t be fixed.
“I must say that I know a lot of people are unhappy with how PSDs are run,” said Yeoman 2nd Class (EXW) Kaila Snaza, who works on the staff of the Pacific Fleet in Hawaii. “Bringing civilians in to run our pay and record updates leaves room for a lack of understanding and the importance of certain things, since they themselves are not in and they really can’t relate.”
The PSDs have been under new management for nearly a year. They are trying to improve their customer service, boosting personnel specialists in fleet concentration area offices and developing a self-service online program so sailors can skip PSD offices for some paperwork.
This summer, Navy Times asked active-duty readers for their experiences with PSDs and got hundreds of responses. Many, like Snaza, cited a litany of problems that often start with a lack of empathy or understanding for the sailor’s situation.
Officials say they’re working to fix those problems and improve the offices sailors rely on for everything from travel claims to service record help. They hope the changes are starting to be seen.
“We are now all on the same team with one chain of command,” Ann Stewart, the head of all PSDs at Navy Personnel Command, told Navy Times in a July 2 phone interview.
Here are sailors’ biggest complaints about PSDs and the steps that officials are taking to address them:
1. New management. Service at your local PSD office can be hit or miss. Long lines. Lackluster help. Unknowledgeable staff. Those misses are keenly felt when it’s your career, your pay or your move on the line. And PSD employees should be held accountable, sailors say.
“Most of the civilians that work at PSDs are good, but the bad ones really make up for it and give the PSDs the bad reputations,” said a Norfolk-based chief information systems technician, who asked not to be identified because of career concerns. “It is very difficult to hold civilian employees accountable. What is the recourse if the civilian employee does a bad job?”
Response: The Navy has reorganized the PSDs and help desks around the fleet, which now report to NPC instead of Navy Installations Command.
“We took over the pay and personnel support system on the first of October,” Stewart said. “One of the things that has been key to this is the stand-up of a real, live chain of command for pay, personnel support services.”
Every PSD has either a military officer in charge or a civilian director, she said, and every one of them directly reports to NPC — a setup that officials hope will improve processing of sailors’ records.
Under the previous system, personnel officials could do little to enforce standards and accountability at struggling PSD offices, as they were run by CNIC.
“There’s a lot more management and oversight on the work that’s being done in the PSDs,” Stewart said.
2. Different rules. Another regular complaint is that the rules at PSDs seem to change depending on which one you go to, sailors said.
“I’ve been a PS most of my career, and it seems that wherever I go, many times I have to learn a new way of doing business,” said a 1st class personnel specialist stationed in the Jacksonville, Florida, fleet concentration area, who also asked to remain anonymous to protect his job. “Isn’t there supposed to be one set of rules and procedures that everyone follows?”
Response: Last year, as NPC was preparing to take over the PSDs Navywide, a fleetwide report on the condition of sailors’ service records recommended the same thing — and reported that the system was “fragmented.”
Officials now say the problem lies in the changing culture at individual PSDs and making their processes standard.
Now that they’re one chain of command, Stewart says the constant message she sends is to use these standard procedures.
The standardization process continued at a workshop for PSD directors at NPC in July, work that will go on, officials acknowledge.
“I’d be lying if I said this was easy and everybody jumped up and said we’re on board,” she said. “It’s a process and it’s going to to take some time.”
3. Better service. When CNIC took over the PSDs in 2004, the personnel specialist rating was cut deeply, and many of the PSD jobs were converted to low-paying civilian jobs.
Sailors complained that many civilian employees lack the basics in handling service record changes and the follow-up needed to fix the problems.
“The civilians and contractors are inefficient and lack integrity and sincerity when it comes to helping sailors,” said a chief personnel specialist based overseas, who asked to remain anonymous. “They lack customer service and initiative to follow through. It’s a 9-to-5 job that they don’t take pride in.”
Response: Officials say PSDs will remain mostly staffed by civilian employees, but officials will be taking steps to improve their interactions with sailors.
“We’re committed to a predominantly civilian workforce,” Stewart said. “Where we’ve fallen down in the past is in not giving them the training they need so they know what to do.”
Stewart said she was concerned to hear about the lack of customer service skills and poor treatment of sailors, as many told Navy Times.
“That’s a big concern to me, and I’ll certainly talk to the OICs about that,” Stewart said.
But she said there’s a training gap between the civilians and the military. Stewart is working to train new civilian employees on the basics and is adapting the curriculum from the personnel specialist ‘A’ school.
4. Boosted military presence. Many sailors feel the solution to the problem is boosting the active-duty military presence in the PSD.
“When it used to be run by mostly PSs, you felt a sense of connection with them because they would understand how important certain pay and documentation issues are to service members,” said Snaza, the YN2 on the PACFLT staff. “I believe that if it was run by service members again, we would see a lot more progress regarding our pay and record issues.”
Response: Expect military presence at PSD offices to see a boost. The Navy may not be adding more military billets to PSDs, but a new overhaul will consolidate the smaller offices into the central PSD office and will focus the PS billets on fleet concentration areas, Stewart said.
“We are looking across the board at and have started doing some consolidation of our costumer service centers and PSDs, and if any of the organizations being consolidated had PS billets in them, we are looking to move them into PSDs that are in fleet concentration areas,” Stewart said.
Skip PSD. Some sailors say they’d like to find a way to bypass PSD altogether and deal directly with Navy Personnel Command. They say cutting out the middle man will make updating service records easier.
“I would like to see a way for sailors to submit their own record documents to online management sites such as the [official military personnel record],” said a naval aircrewman (helicopter) 1st class based in the mid-Atlantic region who asked to remain anonymous.
“I recently transferred at the same time as packages were due to the recently convened E-7 selection board. I found out after the board convened that the command I detached from had not submitted my transfer evaluation to be included in my OMPF. Now crucial career highlights that could have given me an edge at the selection board will not even be seen.”
Response: Personnel bosses have heard complaints like the ASW1’s and will soon be fleet-testing a solution: a “self-serve” service record management site.
NPC wants this site to help sailors complete paperwork when PSD may not be needed. The pilot will allow sailors to update emergency contacts and dependents, expanding access to the Navy Standard Integrated Personnel System..
The document then will go directly to NPC and be processed — while the sailor gets updates on the processing and a note when it has entered their service record.
Limited testing will begin at Personnel Support Detachment Memphis starting this month.
Once this pilot gets going, Stewart said, they’ll look for other types of documents and transactions that could be handled via the online self-service program, which sailors can do from work or home.
6. Fixing awards. Awards are still a sticky wicket for many sailors, with many saying it’s too hard to add missing awards or fix discrepancies.
One chief aviation machinist’s mate complained it was a nightmare trying to get awards squared away in his record.
“I had an award that had the incorrect award number issued to me,” the chief wrote. “I discovered this right away. I had my command rewrite the award and send the correct one to BUPERS and me, as per their instruction that the incorrect award be removed.
“It has been three months and five requests and I still have the incorrect award and duplicate copies of the correct award in my OMPF,” he said. “Since my original request, I have been up for the CWO procurement board and senior chief board — it is a possibility that the issues with my record prevented me from being selected.”
Response: The Navy Department Awards Web Service has made great strides in reducing award discrepancies over the years, said Rear Adm. David Steindl, the head of Navy Personnel Command. But NDAWS does not fall under NPC, which now runs the PSDs, and that leaves sailors having to go through a separate process to get discrepancies fixed.
“There’s always the possibility of that realignment,” Steindl said. “It’s not an initiative that I’m working on at this point,” he said, adding, “I think that is one of the issues that can be discussed over the coming years.”