Reinventing Public Personnel Administration as Strategic Human Resource Management

Article excerpt

Strategic human resource management (SHRM) is the purposeful resolution of human resource administration and policy issues so as to enhance a public agency's effectiveness. It requires understanding how personnel functions interrelate in context, recognition of their importance, and commitment by personnel managers, employees, supervisors and political leaders to work together for change. This analysis will:

* define public personnel administration;

* discuss the changing realities that shape this field;

* present the characteristics of SHRM; and

* provide examples of SHRM in practice.

Public Personnel Administration: Functions, Process, Values, and Systems

Public personnel management can be viewed from at least four perspectives (Klingner and Nalbandian, 1993). First, it is the functions (planning, acquisition, development, and sanction) needed to manage human resources in public agencies. Second, it is the process by which public jobs are allocated (public jobs are scarce because they are limited by tax revenues).

Third, public personnel management is also the interaction among four fundamental societal values that often conflict. Responsiveness is best ensured through an appointment process that (at the upper levels of the bureaucracy) considers political or personal loyalty along with education and experience as indicators of merit. Or a prospective contractor's support for a candidate or elected official is used as one criterion for awarding contracts for providing public services. Efficiency means that staffing decisions should be based on ability and performance rather than political loyalty. Or, by reducing unnecessary personnel costs, privatization and contracting out may provide services more cheaply. Employees' individual rights are protected (by the Constitution, by merit systems, and possibly by collective bargaining agreements) against unfair actions of government officials, and especially against inappropriate partisan political pressure. Social equity grants job preference to groups based on previous sacrifices (veterans) or discrimination (minorities, women, and the disabled) that prevent them from competing fairly.

Finally, public personnel management is personnel systems -- the laws, rules, and regulations used to express these abstract values in fulfilling personnel functions. Political systems are designed to enhance responsiveness through legislative or executive control over hiring and firing decisions. Contracting out may fall into the political system because both the decision to contract out, and the choice of contractor, are at least partly motivated by politics as well as concerns for efficiency. Civil service systems are designed to enhance administrative efficiency and employee rights by staffing public agencies rationally and treating employees fairly. This means selecting and promoting employees on merit, providing pensions and health benefits, paying them equitably, treating them impartially on the job, and protecting them from partisan political influences. Policy objectives of civil service systems are controlled by elected officials, who often appoint agency heads responsible for managing the bureaucracy. The legislature maintains control over resources by limiting the total number of employees an agency can hire, staffing levels in particular agencies or programs, and the personnel budget. Historically, public personnel management has been characterized by competition between politics and merit. And joining the competition are two more recent entrants (collective bargaining and affirmative action), which are actually specialized personnel systems within a civil service system. The primary goal of collective bargaining is equitable treatment of members by management through negotiated work rules over wages, benefits, and conditions of employment. The objective of affirmative action is the voluntary correction of an imbalance in the percentage of minorities in its workforce and those qualified minorities in a relevant labor force, or (alternatively) enforcement of a judicial ruling requiring the agency to give special consideration to members of the "protected class" in personnel decisions, especially hiring and promotion. …