Academic journal article Public Personnel Management

Administrative Values and Public Personnel Management: Reflections on Civil Service Reform

Academic journal article Public Personnel Management

Administrative Values and Public Personnel Management: Reflections on Civil Service Reform

Article excerpt

Recommendations for reform aimed at improving the economy and efficiency of government operations occur with relative frequency in countries around the world. In the recent past, many of these proposals have focused on civil service practices and have sought to relax merit system rules and decentralize public personnel management operations. Interest in these kinds of reforms began to emerge in the late 1970s as a reaction to the inflexibility of traditional civil service structures and the constraints those systems placed on managerial discretion in such core areas as hiring, placement, compensation, and discipline. Reform efforts continued through the 1990s and into the first decade of the 21st century (Pollitt & Bouckaert, 2011). The themes were constant and included the reduction of civil service regulations, efforts to increase managerial discretion, and the implementation of performance-based incentives. Internationally, these actions were part of a larger movement known as the "New Public Management" that included, among other things, budgetary and procurement reforms and the transfer of government functions to private sector contractors (see, for example, Barzelay, 2001; Hood, 1991; Kettl, 1997; Lane, 2000; Pollitt, 1993; Pollitt & Bouckaert, 2011; Pollitt, Van Thiel, & Homburg, 2007).

In the United States, the Carter Administration achieved significant civil service reform in 1978, and the Clinton Administration and its National Performance Review advocated for and implemented additional reforms in the 1990s. President George W. Bush, in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, implemented major personnel management changes in the new Department of Homeland Security and in the Department of Defense (Brook & King, 2007; Naff & Newman, 2004; Riccucci & Thompson, 2008; Underhill & Oman, 2007), but aspects of the Bush reforms faced significant legal challenges, and they were substantially eroded by the time the Obama Administration came to power (Kellough, Nigro, & Brewer, 2010). In contrast, more lasting reforms were implemented from the 1990s onward at the state level (Brewer, 2000, 2001; Hays & Kearney, 1997; Hays & Sowa, 2006; Kellough & Nigro, 2006; Kellough & Selden, 2003; National Commission on the State and Local Public Service, 1993; Nigro & Kellough, 2008). Among observers of reform, it is widely acknowledged that political leaders often see civil service reorganization as a means of enhancing their political and ideological agendas, and reforms typically proceed without much systematic empirical investigation of their potential impact on the performance of core personnel management tasks (Brook & King, 2007; Jordan & Battaglio, 2014; Kellough et al., 2010; McGrath, 2013 ; Nigro & Kellough, 2008; Riccucci & Thompson, 2008; West & Bowman, 2004).

In this article, we investigate motivations for civil service reforms of the past few decades and the values associated with them. We focus on three popular reforms: (a) pay for performance, (b) the decentralization of personnel authority, and (c) the elimination or reduction of merit system protections for public employees. We review available evidence on the impacts of these reforms and note their normative underpinnings. We suggest that reforms often involve classic trade-offs such as that between equity and efficiency. Finally, we conclude by encouraging governments to collect and make available additional data that will be useful in assessing the operation and impact of changes to personnel policy and will help to inform future decisions regarding proposed reforms.

The Motivations for Reform

The push for civil service reform comes from multiple actors operating from a variety of motives, but because desired reforms typically require changes in civil service laws, political leaders, including elected legislators and executive branch officials, are almost always directly involved. …

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