Academic journal article Public Personnel Management

The Changing Face of Georgia's Merit System: Results from an Employee Attitude Survey in the Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice

Academic journal article Public Personnel Management

The Changing Face of Georgia's Merit System: Results from an Employee Attitude Survey in the Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice

Article excerpt

The State of Georgia civil service entered a new period of history on July 1, 1996. From that date forward, all new state employees would be hired into positions outside the traditional protections of the existing state merit system. While the Merit System Reform Act of 1996 kept much of the language about selecting the best candidates for jobs and treating employees fairly, the substance of the Act removed requirements that job candidates be selected from among those scoring highest on an open competitive test or that job-holders be retained or dismissed on the basis of their performance with the right to challenge any dismissal they felt was made on some other basis. The origins of this Act, along with a more complete analysis of its substance, were described earlier, (1) when the Act was still relatively new and the consequences of the Act were merely speculative. Both political supporters and critics of the Act, as well as academic and lay observers, foretold of positive and negative consequences resulting from its passage. (2) In the past year, a number of studies have begun to test those speculations to see which, if any, accurately predicted the future. (3) Among the possible outcomes of the Merit System Reform Act discussed in the earlier paper, four specific hypothesized outcomes will be discussed in this article.

Background

The Georgia Merit System Reform Act of 1996 effectively eliminated the existing merit system for state employees through the method of making all future (i.e., post June 30, 1996) appointments to government positions in what is called the "unclassified" service. The title unclassified is somewhat confusing since it refers to the positions that are not required to be filled by people selected through traditional testing and ranking procedures where only the top candidates may be considered. Also, unclassified employees do not have the right to appeal adverse personnel actions taken against them to a neutral third-party entity, though most agencies have internal procedures for appealing decisions to the agency head. The term is confusing because the positions that they fill are, of course, "classified" in the sense that they have been broken down into duties and responsibilities and assigned a salary commensurate with those requirements. While one might think that it would make more sense to refer to these positions as "merit" and "non-merit" positions, the political leadership of the state clearly did not want to appear to be abandoning "merit" as the principal criterion for government employment, so they did not choose those terms. The use of classified and unclassified among employees and officials in the state government suggests that most, though not necessarily all, employees understand the meaning of these terms as political leaders intended, thus they are used here and the reader is asked to keep the Georgia definitions of these terms in mind with regard to the discussion that follows. The principal benefit of being a classified employee was that any effort to remove an employee or take any other adverse action was subject to third-party review by the State Personnel Board and there had to be a stated reason for the action that could be disputed or challenged by the employee.

While all new hires are now placed in the unclassified service, there were already a number of other employees in the unclassified service prior to this time. For the most part, however, these were limited to employees in the judicial and legislative branches of government and senior officials in the executive branch (e.g., political appointees). Agencies could argue that they had specific job categories that needed to be hired and managed outside of the regular merit system, for example, lawyers were often employed under the terms of unclassified employees. A couple of executive branch agencies, most notably the Department of Natural Resources, had earlier argued for and won the right to place all of its employees in the unclassified service. …

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